Search word: Retrieve verses, illustrations, etc
Studies, Devotionals, Sermons, Illustrations
Old and New Testament.
"What do I see?"
INTERROGATE WITH 5W'S & H
COMPARISON: SIMILE & METAPHOR
A WORD BEFORE YOU BEGIN - You will
receive the greatest benefit from these notes if you are aware of the desired
goals/objectives -- These
notes will be of little benefit to you if you are solely seeking passive
receipt of more information. Instead, you need to come with a humble
childlike attitude (cp Jesus' words Mt 18:2 3 4 Jas 1:21), and a desire
for energetic engagement and true transformation. To help facilitate
this goal of knowing God better (John 17:3) and growing more like his
Son (2Peter 3:18-note),
be alert for the "periodic pit stops" which we call
- these junctures will give you an opportunity to practice what you are reading
and this in turn will help you to "internalize" what you are reading and will
increase your retention and your confidence to apply these techniques in
your daily time with God in His Word. As you become more comfortable with these
techniques, you will increasingly experience the joy of self discovery
of precious nuggets of Truth. Remember, that each time before you take a
also take a moment to beg your Teacher, the Spirit of Truth, to open the eyes
of your heart so that it might not be just an intellectual exercise and you
might be enabled to see the wonderful supernatural truths in His Word.
You will also be pleasantly surprised to discover that observation in many of these
practice exercises flows
smoothly into interpretation and application, as the Spirit pricks
your heart to believe and obey the truth He has just illuminated.
Observation describes the act of
taking notice, fixing the mind upon, beholding with attention and as used in science
includes the idea of making and recording one's findings, a skill certainly
applicable to fruitful inductive study of the Scriptures. Observation is not
just seeing but perceiving what one sees, so that one becomes mentally aware of
what one observes. We live in a fast paced society and honing the vital skill of
observation is not the natural inclination for most of us. We want answers fast (How
many times have you heard someone say "Just Google it"?) and are loathe to
linger too long observing a section of Scripture. But frankly, what better
object to linger upon lovingly and long, than the eternal Word of Truth, the
very revelation from the Creator to His creatures! We dare not let His precious
Word "bore" us! And so we need to learn and practice the art of observation for
as Yogi Berra once said...
You can see a lot
just by looking.
Dr H T Kuist would agree with Yogi for
he defined observation as
the art of seeing things as they really are.
Kuist goes on to add that observation
impartially, intensely and fearlessly.
Robert Traina rightly concludes that
the goal of observation
is to enable one to become saturated with (Ed:
filled completely with so that it permeates or pervades one's entire being) the
particulars of a passage so that one is thoroughly conscious of the (object
being observed). Observation is the means by which the
data (Ed: Don't let that word "data" discourage you - observation
should never become a mechanical, pedantic exercise, but should always be like a
much anticipated journey which eventually leads to the matchless joy of
discovering for yourself what God has said in a particular passage of the Bible)
of a passage becomes part of the mentality of the student. It supplies the raw
materials upon which the mind may operate in the interpretative process (Ed:
As led by the Holy Spirit - Jn 16:13, 1Jn 2:27). (Methodical
Bible Study. 2002. Zondervan)
You may be surprised and maybe even a bit
insulted by the suggestion that most of us have never really been taught how to
read a book, much less a divinely inspired book. (Mortimer Adler's
to Read a Book is a recommended secular work and makes for
fascinating reading on this topic). Most of us really don't know what to look for
in order to effectively and efficiently carry out the observation of a specific
book of the Bible because we've never been instructed. To take an analogy from
life, it's hard to go fishing unless you've got the proper gear. The goal of this section is
to present some general guidelines on "how to read the 'Best Book'" but you will
find the principles applicable to anything you are reading.
The Bible is unlike any other book for it is
essentially a "love letter" from God to mankind. Stop for a moment and ponder
this awesome truth. You have probably received a letter from your sweetheart when you
were dating or courting. Do you remember how you responded when you received that letter?
were eagerly anticipating it. You couldn't wait for it to arrive in the mail.
You kept checking the mailbox to see if the mail had arrived. And when it did
come, you blocked out everything, opened the envelope and devoured every word, every nuance, every
innuendo, as you read the letter from your beloved...and you read it not just once but over and over and over.
You permitted nothing to interfere with reading the letter from beginning to end. The phone might have rung,
but you paid little attention to the ringing. You were far more focused on observing and
interpreting what the the
love of your life had written. Is not this the
approach we should take to "the letter" called the Bible written by the One Who "demonstrates
His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us"
Is this how you approach His word? Or have you "left your first love"
Jesus speaking to the saints at Ephesus told them to
imperative = command
to keep on remembering - it's a good "preventative" for drifting) therefore from where you
have fallen, and
imperative = command
calling for urgent action) and
deeds you did at first or else I am coming to you, and will remove your
lampstand out of its place-- unless you repent.
For Productive Inductive Bible Study
(1) Willingness to slow down
(2) Desire to carefully observe what the
passage is literally saying unbiased by prior experience
whom God used to return His church to a Sola Scriptura approach (only the
Scriptures) which birthed the Reformation, described what in essence is an
inductive approach to Bible study when he said...
I study my Bible as I
gather apples. First, I shake the whole tree that the ripest might
fall . Then I shake each limb, and when I have shaken each limb, I
shake each branch and every twig. Then I look under every leaf . I
shake the Bible as a whole , like shaking the whole tree
Context). Then I shake every limb—study book after book
(~ Overview of Book). Then
I shake every branch, giving attention to the chapters when they do
not break the sense (~ Observation
Chapters). Then I shake every twig, or a careful study
of the paragraphs and sentences and words and their meanings (~Greek/Hebrew
Word Studies)." (Ed
note: my comments in
A T Pierson a well known
19th century preacher once wrote this comment regarding a passage he
When I read this passage for the
100th time, the following idea came to me.
So here we see this great seasoned
student of the Scripture saying "I've got to read it repeatedly and
the more I read it the more I observe." That's the genius of the Word
of God and why it is unlike any other book.
F B Meyer has an interesting
suggestion if your "appetite" for the Word is at "low
Do not always read your Bible because you like to do so, or desire it, but
because it is right to do it, and as a matter of simple duty to your own
life. Study the Word under the light of the Holy Spirit, as the ancient
saint, when blindness was setting in, was wont to carry his Bible to the
window, and place the open page in the full
beams of the western sun. And
slowly the appetite will re-assert itself, and you will come to esteem the
Word of God more than your necessary food (Job 23:12-note) . (Tried
by Fire - Exposition of 1 Peter - Long for the Pure Milk)
Simple Overview of Inductive Study with
example of how to mark a page
with and maintain an attitude of prayer. Go to the Author of the Book before you go to the Book.
And think about this -
How many books have you ever read where you had the
benefit of the author's presence to help you discern his original intent?!
The Bible is not men's truth but God's special revelation of Truth. We must always begin by conversing with the Author,
beseeching Him to open the eyes of our heart to see, understand (put together
the pieces so to speak) and illuminate His supernatural "love letter" to us (see
Col 1:9, 10, 11f-notes,
Ep 1:18, 19-note).
The psalmist recognized his dependence on the
God of the Word for illumination of the Word of God and cried out...
my eyes, (Remember to ask 5W's? Why? How important? When?) that I may behold wonderful things from Thy law. (Ps 119:18-Spurgeon note)
Spurgeon comments: Open thou
mine eyes. This is a part of the bountiful dealing which he has asked for;
no bounty is greater than that which benefits our person, our soul, our mind,
and benefits it in so important an organ as the eye. It is far better to have
the eyes opened than to be placed in the midst of the noblest prospects and
remain blind to their beauty.
That l may behold wondrous things out of thy law. Some men can perceive
no wonders in the Gospel, but the psalmist felt sure that there were
glorious things in the law: he had not half the Bible, but he prized it more
than some men prize the whole. He felt that God had laid up great bounties in
His word, and he begs for power to perceive, appreciate and enjoy the same. We
need not so much that God should give us more benefits, as the ability to see
what he has given.
The prayer implies a conscious darkness, a dimness of spiritual vision, a
powerlessness to remove that defect, and a full assurance that God can remove
it. It shows also that the writer knew that there were vast treasures in the
Word which he had not yet fully seen, marvels which he had not yet beheld,
mysteries which he had scarcely believed. The Scriptures teem with marvels; the
Bible is a wonder land. It not only relates miracles, but it is itself a world of
wonders. Yet what are these to closed eyes? And what man can open his own eyes,
since he is born blind? God Himself must reveal revelation to each
heart. Scripture needs opening, but not one half so much as our eyes do: the
veil is not on the book, but on our hearts. What perfect precepts, what precious
promises, what priceless privileges are neglected by us because we wander among
them like blind men among the beauties of nature, and they are to us as a
landscape shrouded in darkness!
The Psalmist had a measure of spiritual perception, or he would never have known
that there were wondrous things to be seen, nor would he have prayed, "open
mine eyes" but what he had seen made him long for a clearer and wider sight.
This longing proved the genuineness of what he possessed, for it is a test mark
of the true knowledge of God that it causes its possessor to thirst for deeper
In sum, the psalmist was asking God to take the veil off of his
eyes so that he might see spiritual truth revealed by the Spirit. He was acknowledging
his inability to observe spiritual truth without the Spirit's illumination (cp
1Co 2:14, Acts 26:18, Jn 14:26, Lk 24:45).
Skip Heitzig commenting on Psalm
119:18 as it relates to inductive Bible study suggests that we might consider
beginning our study with a prayer something like this...
Lord, I submit myself to You as Your servant
I pray that You would speak to me personally as I now open Your Word. Sharpen my
powers of observation and open my eyes to what the text is saying. Give me
wisdom and insight as I seek to interpret what the text means. And help me to
apply Your truth to the specific areas in my life that need Your touch. Gently
convict me of any issues I'm neglecting or trying to hide. Lord, I give You
complete permission to search my heart to see if there is anything in me that is
contrary to Your will (Ps 139:23, 24-note).
Challenge me with Your holiness and comfort me with Your promises, in Jesus'
name. Amen. (How
to Study the Bible and Enjoy It)
R. W. Dale noted that
Study without prayer is atheism, and prayer
without study is presumption.
Luke teaches that after His resurrection Jesus
(open thoroughly what had been closed) [His disciples'] minds to
see also related noun form
(Lk 24:45, 44, 46, 47, 48, 49, cp Ex 4:11)
Here Luke uses the Greek word for understand
which describes the assembling of individual facts into an organized whole, as
collecting the pieces of a puzzle and putting them together.
Martin Luther wrote the following on
our desperate need for prayer when we study God's Word...
You should completely despair of your own
sense and reason, for by these you will not attain the goal...Rather kneel down
in your private little room and with sincere humility and earnestness pray God
through His dear Son, graciously to grant you His Holy Spirit to enlighten and
guide you and give you understanding...
Since the Holy Writ wants to be dealt with in
fear and humility and penetrated more by studying with pious prayer than with
keenness of intellect, therefore it is impossible for those who rely only on
their intellect and rush into Scripture with dirty feet, like pigs, as though
Scripture were merely a sort of human knowledge not to harm themselves and
others whom they instruct.
you begin your inductive adventure through the Bible, may a determined effort to
stick close to the Author with an attitude of prayer...
Blessed book, God's Living Book,
Through its pages help me look;
May I behold from day to day
New light to guide me in the way.
ESTABLISH THE CONTEXT
Click for more on Context
Begin your study by careful observation
with the goal being to establish the context
which will lay the foundation for accurate interpretation. Accurate
interpretation is almost certain to be compromised if one fails to carry out
careful (accurate) observation (see
example of misinterpretation of a well known verse).
The English word "context" is derived from two words, con = with
and texo = to weave. Thus even the derivation gives us a picture
of the value of context in accurate interpretation -- it "weaves" the text
together in an orderly, logical flow, a flow inspired by God intended to convey
Context is the setting in which a passage occurs or simply what precedes
and what follows the text you are studying. Thus context includes those
verses immediately before and after the passage, then the paragraph and book in
which the passage appears, then other books by this author, as well as the
overall message of the entire Bible. Picture a set of concentric circles with
the text you are observing in the center and surrounded by the next circle which
is the paragraph or subdivision in which that text "lives." Next, you encounter
the "circle" of the book in which that text is found and finally the "circle" of
the entire Bible. Never observe a passage without looking at the "circles",
especially the immediate paragraph, which means you need to not rush, but be
willing to take a moment and do some more reading. (see Interpretation).
Establishing the context forces the
reader to examine the biblical writer's overall flow of thought. The meaning of
any passage is nearly always determined, controlled, or limited by what appears
immediately beforehand and afterward in the text. Context is "king" in
interpretation. Since context always "rules" in interpretation and Scripture
must always be interpreted in light of its context, the first step in the study
of any book of the Bible is to get an OVERVIEW of the book you are
studying. Why? Because when you get an overview of the entire book, it
will help you discover the context.
Great Fish Tale Illustrating importance of
D Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote that...
While there may be a certain value in hanging
up texts on the walls of our homes or reading a collection of texts in a book
like Daily Light, let us never forget that such practices can be dangerous,
because there is a balance in Scripture, and the context of each and
every verse is always important...It is the simple truth to say that most of the
heresies that have troubled the Church throughout her long history have arisen
because men and women have forgotten this simple principle. They have taken a
text out of its context, and have formulated a doctrine out of it. If
they had but taken it in its context they would have been saved from the
error they have embraced. (Christian Unity - Studies in Ephesians)
Irving Jensen writes...
While observing a passage of Scripture, you
should lay the passage before you in temporary isolation and approach it
impartially and fearlessly. You should scrutinize it with what Ruskin calls
"the innocence of the eye"—as if you had never seen it before. As you weigh each
part, there should be calmness, deliberateness, and extreme care in
concentration. You breathe the air of expectancy and cherish your eye as an
honest servant of the mind. What you should desire above all else, in a true
scientific approach, is to see things as they really are. (Irving Jensen.
Independent Bible Study)
Everything in a given book must be considered
and analyzed within its setting, which means we can never isolate one verse or
portion of the book from the rest of what is written. Setting is context and
context is central if you are to arrive at a correct understanding of the text.
Two other sources of context to always
consider and which may shed significant light on the understanding of a passage
are the cultural environment when the passage was written and the
historical when the passage was written (e.g., what does the text teach
about what it was like to be a believer in that specific culture and how does
that influence what the author is writing in a specific book).
As discussed in the section on "Interpretation",
is king" and vital for accurate interpretation. Most
misinterpretation (and subsequently misapplication) of Scripture is the result
of taking the text out of its proper context. So the first task is to carefully
observe the passage to establish the context. The natural tendency for most of
us is to take a verse or verses out of context in order to support some point of
view that we espouse or favor. This is called "proof-texting" and represents our
attempt to make the Bible say what we want it to say or what we want to hear,
rather than letting the Scripture say what God intended the passage to
communicate. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that the most common
failure in interpretation is to violate basic principle of allowing context to
control how the passage is interpreted.
If context is so important, how does a lay
person proceed to establish the context?
The simple answer is that one needs to read,
re-read and carefully observe the text for repeated facts and truths. As one
observes what is said, giving special attention to repeated words, phrases, or
ideas, he or she should begin to understand the context.
It sounds easy doesn't it?
But careful observation is "easier said than done"
for we live in a society which continually promulgates "instant gratification"
and the "natural" approach to studying Scripture is to want to know immediately "What
is in it for me?" or "How can this passage benefit me?" That's
why one of the main prerequisites to productive inductive study is a willingness
to slow down and to observe carefully.
Since most of us don't really know the basic principles of
may read through the chapter or book without truly "observing" the text.
How many times have you read a chapter in the morning and by noon you can barely
remember what you read? The Bible is meant to be bread for daily use, not cake
for special occasions. When you study the Bible "hit or miss," you MISS more than you HIT. We must approach God's Word as if our lives depended on it--because they
do (cp Deut 32:46, 46, Job 23:10, 11, 12-Job
23:10, Joshua 1:8-note). However, left to our human nature, we all tend to read the Bible
more like Dr. Watson than like Sherlock Holmes
here for illustration). To effectively establish context, you need to
learn to read like Holmes rather than Watson. Be encouraged beloved for you will
find that if you persevere in this critical stage of inductive study, the
passage will begin to open up to you as never before.
So from a practical standpoint, how should
you begin to establish the context? Simply reading and re-reading a text could
become very boring and non-productive. So let's look at some basic principles
that will help us achieve our goal of determining the context...
• First, read the text with the goal of looking for the things that are OBVIOUS.
• PEOPLE, PLACES, and EVENTS are the most obvious facts. In the epistles
observation of the facts about the author and the recipients is a good place to
begin to establish context.
• As you read through the text observe the facts that are obvious by
virtue of being REPEATED.
• After you read through these notes on establishing context,
take some time to practice establishing the context of a single chapter (Click
Have you ever put together a jigsaw puzzle? How do you usually begin? Which
pieces do you try to find first? Don't you look carefully for the most obvious pieces
(F.O.T.O), the corner
pieces. Which pieces do you try to identify next? The next most obvious pieces are those with straight edges.
Can you see how this analogy relates to the study of a book of the Bible? Once
you have connected all these puzzle pieces together, you have a framework or "context" in which to
place ("understand") the less obvious pieces of the puzzle. You will
find that by beginning to observe the obvious, then the things within a book
that are not easy to see or understand will eventually become clearer, "rising"
to the surface even as you focus on those things that are obvious. And as you
begin to grasp the context of the book, it will help you in your interpretation
of the difficult, unclear or obscure parts of the book. But even as you have to invest some
time to find the obvious pieces to establish the context of the puzzle, so too you
will usually need to read a book (chapter) several times in order to begin to
see the context and to begin to understand what the author is repeating or
emphasizing (see key words below).
So remember, in your initial study of a
passage, chapter or book...
Read through the book (chapter) you are studying,
observing for the
facts, details, events or ideas, those things which are usually repeated. As
already stated, the
three things that are usually most obvious and easiest to see are people,
places and events. Please
do not be
distracted by minute details, by verses you do not understand or by your favorite passage.
Remember that you are attempting to establish the context and you do so
by observing and marking the
most obvious facts. Let the acronym F.O.T.O. be your watchword as you
begin to study any passage, chapter or book. Resist the temptation to look at the
study notes of you Bible, especially if the passage is unclear. You do not want to
spoil the priceless joy of self-discovery.
William Barclay once commented
It is only when truth is discovered that it
is appropriated. When a man is simply told the truth, it remains external to him
and he can quite easily forget it. When he is led to discover the truth himself
it becomes an integral part of him and he never forgets.
Remember that once you begin to observe and
OBVIOUS facts, then those facts and truths that are not as easy to see or understand
will begin to become clearer, "rising to the surface" so to speak. Please do not
be discouraged or frustrated, for if you persevere in reading and re-reading the text
with a specific purpose (e.g. "What does this section say about the author?"), you are
in the process of establishing the
CONTEXT and this background will aid and guide your interpretation of the difficult,
unclear or obscure passages.
As you begin your journey in
inductive Bible study, seek to have the mindset of an explorer searching diligently for
priceless, hidden treasures (Ps 119:72-Spurgeon's
Avoid reading the passage with the attitude of a tourist who is on a leisurely holiday
for as Michael Green explains...
There is a basic difference between and
explorer and a tourist. The tourist travels quickly, stopping only to observe
the highly noticeable or publicized points of interest. The explorer...takes his
time to search out all that he can find. Too many of us read the Bible like a
tourist and then complain that our devotional times are fruitless. It is
necessary that we take time to explore the Bible. Notable nooks and crannies
will appear as we get beneath the surface.
If we do not
carefully observe the Bible noting "what it says", taking time
to carefully establish the context, we may
it really means" and worst of all we may misapply our misunderstanding
with potentially calamitous results (see the following anecdotal story for the danger of "Incorrect
Robertson McQuilkin writes that...
It is a shameful thing to carelessly ignore
the context. To deliberately violate the context is more than shameful; it is
sinful, for it is a deliberate substitution of one's own words for the Word of
God. The student of Scripture, though he may not understand the original
languages, nevertheless has at his command the single most important tool -- the
context. Let him use it diligently!" (Understanding
and Applying the Bible, page 163
Highly Recommended Resource)
In his sermon on Hebrews 13:8 C H Spurgeon emphasizes the
importance of context...
LET me read to you the verse that comes
before our text (Hebrews 13:8-note).
It is always a good habit to look at texts in their connection. It is wrong, I
think, to lay hold of small portions of God’s Word and take them out of their
connection as you might pluck feathers from a bird. It is an injury to the Word
of God and, sometimes, a passage of Scripture loses much of its beauty, its true
teaching and its real meaning, by being taken from the context. Nobody would
think of mutilating Milton’s poems by taking a few lines out of Paradise Lost,
and then imagining that he could really get at the heart of the poet’s power.
So, always look at texts in the connection in which they stand. (The
C H Spurgeon in another message
emphasizes the vital importance of context...
We are not to treat the verses of the Bible
as pigeons might treat a bushel of peas—picking out one here and another there,
without any thought of the surroundings of that particular passage! No, this
blessed Book was written for men to read right through—and if they are to
understand the meaning of it, they must read each sentence in the connection in
which it is found. (Christ’s
Yoke and Burden)
John Piper is undoubtedly one of the
most gifted and influential preachers of the 20-21st Centuries, and thus it is
not surprising to hear him frequently allude to the importance of context
in his sermons (Google search of Desiringgod.org retrieves 173,000 hits for "context",
albeit undoubtedly not every occurrence uses "context" with the meaning we are
discussing). Here are a few quotes from a variety of Piper's sermons (and since
we are discussing the importance of context links to entire message are
included to see the full and proper "context")...
We can see two clues in the immediate
Advice to Pastors- Preach the Word)
My approach is to assume that the New
Testament writers built on the Old Testament meaning of the psalms (and other
books) unless something in the context forces me to think otherwise.....
Who Rules the World to Come- - Desiring God)
If you try to skip the Old Testament and
interpret Jesus within your own context first without the
Biblical-historical context and categories, you may make him a coach or a
therapist or a good example or a guru or a mentor or a hero or a trailblazer.
And there may be some truth in each of these. But they will not be as true and
deep and authoritative and helpful as the categories that the Bible itself
Draw Near to the Throne of Grace with Confidence)
In understanding what this verse (sermon
discussing Heb 10:14) is teaching. So let’s step back now and put the whole
verse before us again in its context. (From
Perfected for All Time by a Single Offering)
But in the context, the kind of coming
together in view seems to be one where the members “encourage one another.”
Verse 25 is explicit: come together and encourage one another. The “one another”
implies that there is something mutual going on. One is encouraging another and
another is encouraging one. Each is doing or saying something that encourages.
But now think what this means in context.
Magnifying God with Money)
So it is clear that for this young minister
of the Word (see 2Ti 2:15), preaching was to be a prominent activity. And the
context of 2Ti 3:16–17 seems to imply that preaching is not just for evangelism
on the street corner or in the synagogue, but for the saints who need (as 2Ti
4:2 says) “reproof, rebuke, exhortation, patience and instruction.” (From
The Place of Preaching in Worship)
has a topic entitled "Read Each Book in the
Light of the Context"...
In order to ascertain the meaning of any
written statement, whether secular or sacred, we must read each sentence in the
light of its context—i.e., of the neighboring sentences. In the Bible we ought
to study passages rather than verses. The length of a 'passage'
varies according to circumstances, and it may not be always easy to say where
one passage ends and another begins. The sectional marks in some Bibles may help
us, and the division into paragraphs and sub-paragraphs ought to make the matter
clear, and where this is not the case, practice and the use of our common-sense
will generally enable us to decide. The advantages of this method of study are
First, it usually enables us to see
clearly who is the speaker or actor in each passage. It may be God, or it
may be a prophet, or it may be an ordinary man; the view expressed may be
inspired, or it may simply be the belief at the period. One of the first
questions we ask concerning any statement recorded in the Bible is, Who
makes it? Its influence on our life will vary according to the answer.
Again, the studying of the context enables us to see whether the
statement contained in a verse or fragment of a verse is conditional or
unconditional, or whether it needs to be qualified by the circumstances
under which it is uttered....No text is more familiar, and few have been more
blessed than that which we read in 1John 1:7, which is usually quoted thus :"The
blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.' But, on turning to the passage, we
find the little word "IF" introduced. It runs thus:— 'If we walk in the
light...the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.' It implies
that we have already come to the light, and are walking in the light, so that we
are like the man who has bathed and needs only to wash his feet (Jn 13:10).
Again, the study of the context will
keep us from misapplying a text or throwing its force into the wrong
direction. Thus, in Phil 2:12, there is an oft-quoted sentence: 'Work out
your salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God Who works in you both to
will and to work for His good pleasure.' Preachers are in the habit of dwelling
on the apparent inconsistency between the two halves of the passage, and they
argue from it that we cannot reconcile the doctrine of free will with Divine
influence. But take a step further back, and the passage reads thus: 'So then,
my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now
much more in my absence, work out your salvation, for...."—in other words,
'Depend not on me (Paul), but on God; I cannot do for you (whether present or
absent) what He can.' (Robert
Girdlestone - Page 39 -"How to Study the English Bible")
You might also read Girdlestone on the topic
"Examine the Meaning of Words" which begins this way—"Words
are little things, but they are not to be despised. A little key opens a
precious casket, and a little coin will purchase what may save a life; and so, a
little word may suggest a world of meaning, or become the turning-point of a
destiny. It has been said that words are finite, whilst the things which they
represent are infinite. That is true; but we cannot get at the infinite truth
except through finite words. Bible words need to be carefully studied and well
weighed; their usage must be mastered, and we must be prepared to give 'small
change' for them, that is, to translate them into the language of our present
daily life." (Page
41 - How to Study the English Bible)
Irving Jensen...repeatedly alludes to
the importance of context in his modern classic "Independent
A Christian who studies a book of the Bible
with serious intentions must learn its facts by way of its form, or, stated
another way, he must learn its teaching by way of its structural context.
He shouldn't study some parts and overlook others as though he were selecting
the most lustrous jewels from the store counter and rejecting others. Rather, he
will consider the total message of the book as likened to a beautiful plant,
with a stream of life flowing through all its parts. Merrill C. Tenney, in
writing of the "genius" of the Gospels, asserts that the basic presupposition of
his approach is that "the content, form, and doctrine of the Gospels are the
product of the Holy Spirit, to Whom they owe their vital power."....
When you, the student—face to face with the minute parts of Scripture including
even the punctuation—wrestle to know its intent in its context, you are
engaging in the study process known as analysis. Analysis is distinguished by
its exactness, minuteness, and comprehensiveness. Tenney makes a high appraisal
of the analytical method when he says, "In order to ascertain exactly what a
given body of text says one should employ the analytical method."....
Context is one of the best indicators of the author's primary
(The) process of using Scripture to interpret Scripture has been one of the
soundest maxims in exegesis. But for segment studies, it is best first to
concentrate your study on the words and thoughts in their immediate context
and use, cross-reference study later as a supplementary guide.....
If an ambiguous word or phrase occurs in a segment of study, you will not be
satisfied until the context sheds some light on its meaning....For
example, the word "shepherd" could in a certain context emphasize the
lowly aspect of such a man's occupation. However, for the phrase "The Lord is
my shepherd," (Ps 23:1) the context of the Twenty-third Psalm
indicates that the guidance, protection, and provision aspects of shepherding
are being taught. Common sense and context, then, are two key helpmates
in identifying the Bible author's intentions in his use of literal and
Among the various maxims for interpreting parables, the rule of surrounding
context offers us the most light for our interpretation. Any context
that answers the following two questions is gold to the interpreter: (1) What
brought on the parable? (2) What effect did the parable have on the hearers?
Because parables speak of daily life, an understanding of the items in the
parable relating to custom, culture, and geography of the biblical days is also
essential to a full appreciation of the intent of the parable....
The Bible is its best interpreter, and such self-interpretation involves
cross-reference study, distant context reference, and, of greatest aid,
the immediate or surrounding context. Since the inductive method of study
that is being urged in these pages emphasizes this immediate context study,
involving terms as well as structure, a devotion to the disciplines of this
method is sure to aid the Bible student in arriving at the true
You will find that the Bible passage explains much of itself by its own
(Remember that) No Bible statement is without context....Independent
Bible Study- Irving L. Jensen)
How important is context? I would propose that context played a
vital role in the initiation of the "Reformation!" Why so? Read Martin
Luther's own words regarding the importance of context...
Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat
importunately upon Paul at [Romans 1:17], most ardently desiring to know what
St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night,
I gave heed to the context of the words,
namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who
through faith is righteous shall live.’ ” There I began to understand [that] the
righteousness of God is … righteousness with which [the] merciful God justifies
us by faith.… Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered
paradise itself through open gates. (The
Reformation Journal = Martin Luther’s Account of His Own Conversion)
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE:
for an exercise on
establishing context on
KEY WORDS AND KEY PHRASES
What are key words or key phrases? Think about
the keys to your car or house. What is their purpose? What happens when you
misplace them? By analogy, in simple terms key words or phrases
function like keys to help the reader "unlock" the meaning of a passage, a
paragraph, a chapter or a book.
How do we go about identifying these
crucial words and phrases? First, we need to understand a few more details
about the "keys" and then we can take "action".
WHAT DO I DO?
Are usually identified by the fact
that they are repeated
Read the text taking special note
of those words or phrases which the author uses repeatedly (e.g., What
is repeated in Proverbs 118 times in 915 verses and at least once
in every chapter? I'm sure you know, but
click if you are unsure)
Note however that not every
repeated word or phrase is key (see next action point).
Are vital to the understanding of the text and cannot be
removed without leaving the passage devoid of meaning.
Applying the "rule of removal"
helps determine whether a repeated word is truly a key word. If you can remove
it from the text, it is not a key word and is not crucial to the overall meaning
of that passage, chapter, etc.
May include pronouns, synonyms, closely related phrases
Be alert to the fact that the author may use synonymous words or
phrases in lieu of the more obvious key word or phrase and these
synonyms can be subtle and more difficult to identify, especially in
the initial reading of a passage. In general, the more one reads a
given passage, the more obvious the subtle synonyms will become!
May be key only in a paragraph,
chapter or throughout the entire book
For example you may identify a key
word/phrase in one chapter which may not be found anywhere else in
the book. In that case it is key for that chapter and serves to help understand
the main point of the chapter. Another chapter will have a different key because
the main point is different. Does that make sense?
Always answer one or more of the
Always pause and ask as many of the
5W/H questions as common sense and
context allow. Do not panic if you cannot ask all 6 questions. The
skill of asking questions of the text takes practice, but is one of
the most fruitful skills you can develop. Never read Scripture without
asking one or more of the
5W/H questions. In time you this
questioning mindset will be "second nature."
Should be marked in a unique way using
symbols and/or colors.
Pause and place a symbol (+/- color) over the
key (see next section) to aid it's identification and to get a sense of its
relationship to the section as a whole. Mark this same key word the same
throughout your Bible.
Often form the basis for making a list.
In the margin of your observation worksheet,
make a list of the truths you glean by interrogating the key words
are we doing all this work on key
words and key phrases?
Similar or recurring ideas and words will
guide you to the author's main idea. The study of key words and phrases will
help you discover the author's logic and flow of ideas. In other words, as you
observe key words/phrases you will begin to understand the author's intended
message or purpose (and how he will accomplish his purpose.) Don't become frustrated at this point. Remember that
you are reading and re-reading in order to establish the
context (which is crucial for arriving at an accurate interpretation). The
process of identifying, marking and interrogating the key words/phrases is vital
in order for you to firmly grasp the context. After several readings of
a section focusing on author, recipient (these first two are only found in
epistles), key words and key phrases, you will
begin to understand what the main subject(s) are, which
in turn will reveal the theme (unifying idea repeated or developed
throughout a work) of the chapter or book you are observing.
To reiterate, as you read the Scriptural text, be alert for key words
and phrases which help to establish the context,
the overall theme, and the author's specific purpose for writing the book. Each
encounter with a key word or phrase should prompt you to pause and mark it (see
next section) as well as to ask one or more of the
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE:
simple exercise on identifying, marking & questioning the key word
"God" in 2Timothy 1
if you would like to more
practice establishing context using 1Thessalonians chapter 1
MARKING KEY WORDS
Mark each "key
word" in a distinctive way, using symbols and/or
color coding. Once you determine a symbol for the key word or phrase, it
will be helpful to use this marking system throughout your Bible to facilitate
Here are some examples of how you might mark
some common key
words (place symbol over the key word):
(LORD or Jehovah in the OT)
(Including references to Messiah in OT)
**HINT: The symbols in the table
are available in Microsoft Word's fonts - scroll down to "webdings" and
"wingdings" (1-3). If you do not have Microsoft Word on your computer,
these symbols will not be accurately displayed but you should still be able to understand the
idea from the description of the symbol. Precept Ministries has an inexpensive
bookmark entitled "How to Mark Key Words in Your Bible" with a number of
examples for common Biblical words (call 1-800-763-8280 to order)
Remember that although God, Jesus and the
Holy Spirit are always key words, they may occur many times in a given
chapter or paragraph. In these situations, you may elect not to mark every
occurrence lest you end up with so many marks that you can barely read the
actual Scriptures! Use common sense about when to mark and when not to mark.
Don't forget to mark synonyms of the
key word/phrase. A synonym is a word
that has the same meaning as another word within a particular context and is
used in place of the word. A synonym is like saying the same thing with a
different word. For practice, read through 1 Thessalonians 1 (Click) and make note of
the key word "gospel". If you have time print this chapter off
(as an "Observation Worksheet") so you can mark the text. How would you mark "gospel"?
What do you
learn about the gospel? What other "5W's
and H" questions can you ask of this key word? Now read through
second time, but this time read with the purpose of observing for any synonyms
(including phrases) for "gospel" . Did you see any words or
phrases that refer to the gospel? If you didn't see them, read it through a
third time and you will probably see the two phrases that refer to the gospel.
After reading through this chapter two or three times, you have begun to
understand the context. You have also begun to understand how removal of
"gospel" and its synonyms leaves the passage virtually devoid of meaning and on
the other hand how an understanding of the key words/phrases helps you begin to
discern the theme of this chapter.
Click for more complete instructions on how to practice the inductive
technique on 1 Thessalonians 1
AND/OR COLOR THE TEXT?
Marking helps make the Scriptures your
own because it helps remember the text. As discussed elsewhere, as a
general rule we recall 10% of what we read, 20% of
what we hear and 50% of what we read, hear and see (Click
table). In addition (as with all of the Inductive "techniques")
marking the text tends to slow us down, which is our desperate need. Marking in
a sense helps us "be still" (Ps 46:10KJV) so that we might hear the still, small
voice of the Spirit of the Lord speaking to us personally through the Holy
Scriptures (1Ki 19:12KJV).
Marking allows one to quickly scan
the page and see the key words that are emphasized in that section. Use
the same symbols for key words from Genesis to Revelation as this will
facilitate recognition throughout the Scriptures. Lamberski and Dwyer studied color
coding and concluding that color-coding techniques improved attention, increased
learner motivation and aided remembrance.
Avoid the temptation to "speed read" a
passage and seeking to mechanically mark each occurrence of a key word
(or reference to Author or Recipient if you are reading an epistle).
And don't forget that each encounter with a key word
(fact about author or recipient) should
stimulate a 5W's
and H" question. Why is this
used here? How does it impact the flow of thought? Who does this relate to?
did this occur?, etc. The more you practice this valuable skill, the more
"sophisticated" your questions will become and the more profound will be the
insights that the Spirit illuminates. And don't worry, for you can never run out
of questions for the Word of God because it is a living Word!
As you seek to establish the
context of the chapter or book, continually reading with a "marking,
interrogating mindset", you will find yourself engaging more and more in active
(versus passive) reading. Active reading not only stimulates your thinking and
interaction with the text, it also slows you down. Active reading engages you in
conversation with the Author. In a sense, by reading actively you are practicing
the essence of the all but lost art of
on the Scriptures. Yes,
marking and interrogating will slow you down somewhat, but you will gain so much
more from the passage than if you had simply read through it in obedience to
your "read through the Bible in a year" schedule.
Mark it down: Marking a book is not an act mutilation but of love. You may own the
book but you've not really made it your own. Someone has well said that a Bible
that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who is not!
Don't try to identify, mark and interrogate
every "key word" in the first reading of a paragraph, chapter or book. A
recommended approach is to read through a section (e.g.,
2 Timothy 1)
marking and interrogating a single key word. Then read
through the same chapter again and mark another key word. To reiterate,
"God", "Jesus", "Christ", "Lord" and "Spirit" are always "key words" and
therefore should generally always be marked, unless they are so concentrated
that marking them would make it difficult to see other key words in the text.
As you read and reread a chapter making
observations on the key words, you will notice that you are beginning to
understand and establish the
context, which as "king" in the interpretation.
Are You Spoiling Your Beautiful Bible?
One day in St. Louis, Missouri, a young convert named C. I.
Scofield walked into the office of a friend. He found him with a new copy
of the Scriptures on his desk and a pencil in his hand. “Why, man, you’re
spoiling that beautiful Bible!” exclaimed the young Christian. His
older friend pointed him to
Acts 8, where he had underscored the fifth
verse, "Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming
Christ to them.“ (Acts 8:5) Then he had connected by a line to Acts
8:8 which reads, “So there was much
rejoicing in that city.” Years afterward, Scofield
frequently introduced his friend C. E. Paxson as “the man who first taught
me to mark my Bible.” The inspiration and instruction that Paxson gave him
led to the preparation of the now-famous Scofield Reference Bible with its
helpful footnotes and cross-references."
Remember that while it is good to
mark your Bible, it is better to let your Bible mark you because the value of
the Bible is not in just knowing it, but in obeying it.
of pen do I use to mark my Bible? One of the best pens for
marking thin Bible pages is the
Sakura Pigma Micron
which comes in several colors,
is long lasting, does not bleed through the page and comes in a
variety of point widths (Micron 01 = 0.25mm is recommended - the 001
is superfine but can be easily bent). Note
this link is provided as a starting
point so that you can see what Pigma Micron pens look like and their
price range. I have never ordered from this link and so appropriate
caution and shopping around are recommended.
USING THE "5W'S & H"
Webster: in•ter•ro•gate \transitive verb:
to question formally and systematically
The best investigative reporters are the best
interrogators - I think this truth applies to getting the most out of one's time
in the Word of God, as long as one does not become too mechanical or pedantic.
Mortimer Adler in his excellent book "How
to Read a Book" writes...
If you ask a living teacher a question, he
may really answer you. If you are puzzled by what he says, you may save yourself
the trouble of thinking by asking him what he means. If, however, you ask a book
a question, you must answer it yourself. In this respect a book is like nature.
When you speak to it, it answers you only to the extent that you do the work of
thinking and analysis yourself.
The Bible of course is not like nature, nor
is it like any other book, for as believers we possess within ourselves (1Cor
3:16, 1Cor 6:19-note)
the Holly Spirit, the Author of the Book. And thus as we prayerfully, humbly,
thoughtfully, meditatively, yea even as a little child interrogate the "living
active" (Heb 4:12-note)
Word of Truth (Ps 119:43-note,
2Co 6:7, Col 1:5-note,
see also Jn 8:31,32, 17:17), our Teacher, the Spirit, in some very real (albeit
to me still mysterious) way interacts with us, illuminating the inspired Word
leading us into all Truth, even as Jesus promised (John 16:13, cp Jn 14:16, 26, 15:26,
16:7 1Jn 2:20,27).
And so as you observe carefully for the author's
use of key word and key phrases
fight the urge to read passively by simply skimming over the text without
engaging your mind. If you mark the text, you also need to fight the tendency to mark mechanically
without thinking about what you just marked (I still occasionally fall into this
"trap" even after years of practicing inductive Bible study). To counter these
tendencies, we need to make a definite, volitional choice to pause
and prayerfully ponder and interrogate the inspired Word, asking
and answering as many of the following "leading questions" as the text allows...
THE 5W/H QUESTIONS:
Who? Where? Why?
As an aside, questioning the text does not
mean that one questions the inerrancy, plenary inspiration or authority of God's
The more you practice interrogating the text, the more
the text will be opened to you by the illuminating ministry of the Spirit. Below are some suggestive questions, but
remember to allow the text (and especially the
context) to guide your specific questions...
Who is speaking? To whom and/or
about whom is he speaking? Who are the main characters? Who
is mentioned in the book (Why? What do we learn about them?) (In the epistles
ask) Who is writing (author)? Who receiving?
Where did (or will) this happen (Why?
When?)? Where was this said/written (where is the author) (Why?)?
Why was this written (What purpose?)?
Why is this said? Why is he there?
When is this written (When in Biblical
history - where on the timeline? When in the author's life)? When
did/will this happen? When did he say/do it?
What is the author doing? What
are the main events? What are the circumstances? What is the
historical/cultural setting (as determined from the text)? What is the
main subject of the chapter/book?
How will/did something happen? How
is the truth illustrated?
Do not panic if you cannot ask every 5W/H question. And remember that these questions should be asked
not only when you encounter key words or key phrases, but every time you
identify one of the other Observation "code
terms of explanation
such as "for"),
(time phrase), etc. Every encounter with one of these "code
words" is an opportunity to hone
(sharpen) your skills of observation. Yes, it does take time and practice to train
yourself to employ this "questioning mindset." (As an aside, questioning the text
does not mean that one questions the inerrancy, plenary inspiration or authority
of God's Holy Word!) As you train your eye to observe the Scriptures (this
training takes some time), your enhanced ability to keenly observe and
intelligently interrogate will also make you a better reader of
everything you read for the rest of your life.
Learning to interrogate the Scripture with the 5W/H questions
yields a number of dividends such as...
(1) It will force you to slow down
and will "counteract" the tendency to "speed read" the Bible. This
travesty is especially common when one falls behind schedule on
their "Through the Bible in a Year" reading program! Here is a little
test you can perform today. Assuming you began today with the "breakfast of
champions", the pure milk of God's Word (1Pe 2:2-note),
ask yourself several times during the day, "What did I read this morning? What
did it teach me about God? What did it say about me? How have I applied this
Truth?" I fear too many of us have trouble recalling specific details of our
time with God in His Word as the day draws nigh. I submit that if you pause and
prayerfully ponder the pages of Holy Writ, your Teacher, the Spirit, will bring
those passages to your remembrance during the day, giving you wisdom for living
life to the full (John 10:10b)! On the other hand if it is the middle of the
afternoon and you cannot even remember the book or chapter you read this
morning, you have most likely read too fast and too passively. It is better to
let one verse "read you" then to read a hundred verses that you cannot recall.
Beloved, God's desire is that His book be our real time instruction manual for
living, whether we are at home, at school or at work!
(2) It will engage your heart and mind with
the text (and especially the Author of the text), forcing you to to read actively,
more like an "explorer," rather than passively like a "tourist".
The old adage "Stop and smell the roses" surely applies to acquisitively taking
in the beauty of all of our Father's "good words" (Joshua 23:14, 21:45).
(3) It will create a "meditative
mindset", as you pause and ponder the passages,
chewing them like a cow chews
cud, mulling them over in your mind,
constantly seeking to ask the probing 5W/H questions. You will begin to gain insights into the
Scriptures that you
simply could not have been
gleaned from a superficial, passive, unengaged reading of the Holy Word. You will begin
to experience the joy of self discovery as your Teacher, the Spirit, illuminates and
applies God's Truth to your life. In a very real sense, you will be learning how to
on the Holy Scriptures, a discipline which God
promises to greatly bless (Read His promises which are applicable to
you in Psalm 1:1-note,
and Joshua 1:8-note).
We interpret the Bible properly
when we learn to ask the right questions of the text. The problem is that
many people do not know the "right questions" to ask or are either too
lazy or too rushed to practice them! Imagine if God were to beckon you to come
into His presence. Would you want to leave or would you linger? In His living
and abiding Word, the Father has called us into His very presence, into
communion with Himself, through the ministry of His Spirit and His Son,
our Great High Priest, the Incarnate Word. May this transcendent truth motivate
in all of us a continual "Mary like" attitude, so that we too would sit
quietly at our Master's feet, lingering, listening, and learning the one thing
that is really necessary (Lk 10:38 39 40 41 42)!
A W Pink wrote that "No verse of Scripture yields its meaning to
lazy people." It therefore behooves us to "gird the loins of our mind for
action" (1Peter 1:13-note),
so that we might diligently practice interrogating the Scriptures with the
5W/H's. As someone once pithily put it "God feeds the birds,
but He doesn't throw the food into their nests!"
Learning to ask the right questions, to discern the answers and to carefully
observe the text demands discipline, diligence and doing ("Just do it!"). Most
"amateur sleuths" have never been trained in the "Sherlock Holmes
Approach" to Scripture. If I were the Devil, that one who does not stand in
the Truth (Jn 8:44), I would do everything I could to discourage the saints from
learning now to carefully observe the Word of Truth for themselves, for fear
that they might become equipped to fend off the fiery missiles of deceit filled
lies leading to doubt, discouragement and despair. Had Eve been a better
"inductive student", one wonders how events would have progressed on that
fateful day in the Garden when our Adversary hissed those words calculated to
generate doubt "Yea, hath God said...?" (Ge 3:1). So dear saint, let me
encourage you to persevere in practicing the principles of Inductive Bible
Study, for the reward you will
experience in personal discovery and penetrating understanding of the Word of
Life will eternally far outweigh your investment of time today (Ep 5:16KJV-note,
1Ti 4:7, 8-note)!
In short, the importance of a questioning
mindset cannot be overemphasized as the answers to the 5W/H questions form the
basis for every aspect of Inductive Bible Study - astute observation, accurate
interpretation and appropriate application.
Although Rudyard Kipling was not referring to Inductive
Bible Study when he wrote his poem Six Honest Serving-Men, you can still
observe the parallel
principle poetically phrased...
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
Kipling gives sound "Biblical" advice,
except for his last line. Beloved, make it the goal of your life to never
"give them all a rest" when you sit at the feet of Jesus, the Incarnate
Word, Who alone is revealed in the eternal, holy Word of God, of Truth and of
Most students of Scripture do not see the
"gold nuggets" of truth in passages and paragraphs, because they do not know
to look for. One way you will learn what to look for is by asking the right questions.
Questions will bring details to our attention. The following story from the
secular classroom setting illustrates this point.
INDUCTIVE TEACHING STYLE
The essence of the inductive method was aptly
illustrated by the experience of a student at Harvard who took a zoology course
under professor Louis Agassiz, the renowned nineteenth-century naturalist. For the assignment Agassiz gave the
student a pickled fish, a haemulon, which was to be the sole source of his
observations over the next several days. For three full days the student observed
the haemulon in order to gain a thorough understanding of the fish. And
what did Professor Agassiz's advise him to do?
LOOK! LOOK! LOOK!
How else would the student master his
subject? (Ed: Ask! Ask! Ask!) He was also instructed to draw out
what he saw (Ed:
Mark the Text,
Make Lists, Record your observations) for as Agassiz reminded him
THE PENCIL IS ONE OF THE
Finally, he was instructed to recognize the parts of the haemulon in their
orderly arrangement and relations to each other, for "facts are stupid things
until brought into connection with some general law." (Ed:
Think of passages of Scripture removed from their "natural" [supernatural]
inductive method successfully inculcated into his student? By the student's own
testimony "To this day, if I attempt [to draw] a fish I can draw nothing but haemulons."
(Ed: The Bible in your memory is better than the Bible on your
Louis Agassiz was once asked “What was your greatest contribution,
scientifically?” to which he replied
I HAVE TAUGHT
MEN AND WOMEN TO OBSERVE.
The ability to correctly observe is a skill which must be perfected by practice
and perseverance as illustrated in this true "fish story."
THE RESULTS CAN BE
to read the entire story)
Source - page 4 of Pdf)
As an interesting aside, this renowned
Harvard scientist steadfastly (his entire life) resisted the propagation of
Charles Darwin's theories on evolution! May his tribe increase. Amen! (Louis
Agassiz - Short Biography).
Warren Wiersbe phrased it this way...
If we speak to the Lord about the Word,
the Word will speak to us about the Lord!
If you don’t talk to your Bible,
your Bible isn’t likely to talk to you!
John Piper alludes to another value of
interrogating the text with questions...
So meditating on the Word of God day
and night means to speak to yourself the Word of God day and night and to speak
to yourself about it—to mull it over,
to ask questions about it and answer them from the Scripture itself,
to ask yourself how this might apply to you and others, and to ponder its
implications for life and church and culture and missions. (
When I Don't Desire God How to Fight for Joy - Online and free to Download)
Primer On Biblical Meditation;
Mediation - Application of Inductive Bible Study)
(In another place Dr. Piper says) You
can learn more from a book if you stop and ask it questions than if you just
read it passively. That includes the Bible too. One of the great problems in
Bible reading is that we move our eyes over the words and come to the end of a
column and don't know what we've read; we don't feel our minds or spirits
expanded because we saw nothing fresh. It was purely mechanical. There was no
discovery, no life, no breakthroughs to new insight. One of the best ways to
change that is to train yourself to ask questions of the text. Often the posing
of the question itself will already carry its answer with it and will open your
mind to new things. This fairly prosaic, historical text in Luke 3:21–38 gives
me an opportunity to show you what I mean. I'll simply take you with me through
this text, pointing out the questions I asked and the answers I came up with. My
guess is that as you follow me, questions of your own will arise. Good questions
usually beget other questions, and that's how insight grows and grows. (Introductory
comments to his sermon on
The Baptism and the Genealogy of Jesus -
Now click the link to see actual examples
of questions Dr Piper asked to actually preach this text! Now begin to
incorporate this valuable discipline into your Bible reading. Beware of the
danger of a "through the Bible in a year" reading program -- it is tempting to
"just get through" the daily reading, but come to the end of the day and not
even remember what you have read. That's "passive" reading. Interrogation of the
text is "active" reading--your Teacher God's Spirit will richly reward you for
your "labor of love!")
LET US QUERY
(In Brothers We Are Not
Professionals Piper comments further on querying the text) ...Several
strong forces oppose our relentless and systematic interrogating of Biblical
texts. (1) One is that it consumes a great deal of time and energy on one
small portion of Scripture. We have been schooled (quite erroneously) that there
is a direct correlation between reading a lot and gaining insight. But, in fact,
there is no positive correlation at all between the quantity of pages
read and the quality of insight gained. Just the reverse for most of us.
Insight diminishes as we try to read more and more. Insight or understanding is
the product of intensive, headache-producing meditation on two or three
propositions and how they fit together. This kind of reflection and rumination
is provoked by asking questions of the text. And you cannot do it if you hurry.
Therefore, we must resist the deceptive urge to carve notches in our
bibliographic gun. Take two hours to ask ten questions of Galatians 2:20, and
you will gain one hundred times the insight you would have attained by quickly
reading thirty pages of the New Testament or any other book. Slow down. Query.
Ponder. Chew....It is impossible to respect the Bible too highly, but it is
possible to respect it wrongly. If we do not ask seriously how differing texts
fit together, then we are either superhuman (and see all truth at a glance) or
indifferent (and don’t care about seeing the coherence of truth). But I don’t
see how anyone who is indifferent or superhuman can have a proper respect for
the Bible. Therefore reverence for God’s Word demands that we ask questions
and pose problems and that we believe that there are answers and solutions which
will reward our labor with treasures new and old (Matt. 13:52). We must train
our people that it is not irreverent to see difficulties in the Biblical text
and to think hard about how they can be resolved. Preaching should model this
for them week after week....I already quoted 2 Timothy 2:7-note. But I close now by
pointing out the relationship between the two halves of this verse. There is a
command and a promise. Paul commanded, “Think
(Ed: Command to do this continually) over what I say.”
And then he promised, “God will give you understanding in everything.”
Some people see tension between cogitation and illumination. Not Paul. He
commands cogitation. And he promises illumination. How do the command and
promise fit together? The little connecting word for gives the
answer (Ed: See
term of explanation)
“Think … because God will reward you with understanding.” A text like this
explains why Benjamin Warfield reacted with dismay at those who elevated prayer
for divine illumination above rigorous observation of God’s written Word and
serious intellectual reflection on what it says....This is why the Bible has so many appeals to us that we should both
meditate on the written Word of God with our minds and pray that God do
His revelatory work in our hearts...To all the commands to meditate and think about God’s Word, the Bible adds the
promise, “The Lord will give you understanding.” The gift of illumination does
not replace meditation. It comes through meditation. The promise of divine light
is not made to all. It is made to those who think. “Think over what I say, for
God will give you understanding in everything.” And we do not think until we are
confronted with a problem. Therefore, brothers, let us query the text. (Brothers,
we are not professionals)
TERMS OF CONCLUSION
Terms of conclusion are
specific words or short phrases which are used to identify a summary, a conclusion or
Train your eye to observe the text carefully for words
or phrases like those listed below and mark them by underlining or some other
symbol. Note that the uses represent the
occurrences in the 1995 version of the NASB.
TERMS OF EXPLANATION
# of Uses*
For this reason
Number of uses in the 1995
New American Standard translation
Not every use is term of conclusion/explanation - check the
When found at the beginning of a verse the term is usually a term of conclusion.
Note: All words in
are active links to allow you to examine the uses of the respective
word or phrase.
Therefore - Every time you see a therefore
always ask the question "What's it there for?" The English
dictionary defines therefore as follows...
For this reason, referring to
something previously stated (Stop and observe what has just been stated). Used
to mark an inference on the speaker’s part: those people have their umbrellas
up; therefore, it must be raining
Practice It! - Read Ge
3:23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to
cultivate the ground from which he was taken. What is the 5W/H question?
Why did the LORD God send him (Adam) from the garden? How would you determine
the answer? Examination of the preceding context (Ge 3:22) provides the answer.
So - in order that, because the
preceding is true or this being the case. So introduces clauses both of
purpose ( We ordered our tickets early so that we could get good seats )
and of result ( The river had frozen during the night so people walked across
it all the next day ).
For this reason - This begs the
question "For what reason?".
For this reason - 68x in 68v in NAS
- Ge 2:24; Ex 9:16; Jdg 11:8; 1Sa 20:29; 2Sa 7:22; Neh 6:13; Is 21:3; Da 3:8,
22; Mt 6:25; 12:27; 18:23; 19:5; 24:44; 27:8; Mk 10:7; Lk 7:7, 47; 11:49; 12:22;
Jn 5:16, 18; 6:65; 7:22; 8:47; 9:23; 10:17; 12:18, 39; 13:11; 19:11; Ac 26:21;
28:20; Ro 1:26; 4:16; 15:22; 1Co 4:17; 11:30; 12:15 16; 2Co 7:13; 12:7; 13:10;
Ep 1:15; 3:1, 14; 5:14, 31; Php 2:9; Col 1:9; 1Th 2:13; 3:5, 7; 2Th 2:11; 1Ti
1:16; 2Ti 1:6, 12; 2:10; Titus 1:5, 13; Philemon 1:15; He 2:1; 9:15; 1Jn 3:1;
3Jn 1:10; Rev 7:15; 12:12; 18:8
So is frequently found at the
beginning of verses and when used as a term of conclusion should prompt you to
ask "Why?" which should draw your attention to preceding context to answer the
Practice It! - Read Ge 2:21.
What question does "so" prompt in this passage? How do you answer the
question? Clearly you are forced to check the immediate context (Ge 2:20) to answer
the simple question "Why" is so used?" or more to
the point, "Why did the Lord God cause a deep sleep to fall on Adam?" Do you see how this
simple "technique" serves to slow you down and to encourage you to
actively (rather than passively) "engage" and interact with the passage and the
Author of the passage?! Your observations in turn will lead you to an accurate interpretation of the
John Piper on the edifying value of
learning to observe and query the therefore's of Scripture...
Another way the Scriptures show us that ideas
have consequences is by using the word “therefore” (1,039 times in the
NASB). For example, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have
peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). “Therefore,
there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Therefore,
do not be anxious for tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34). “Therefore, do not fear;
you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). “Therefore,
treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12). “Therefore
let us not judge one another anymore” (Romans 14:13). “Therefore do not
let sin reign in your mortal body” (Romans 6:12). “Therefore glorify God
in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). “Therefore whether we live or die, we
are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).
Every one of these great “therefores” flows from a view of reality. If we
want to live in the power of these great practical “therefores,” we must be
gripped by the ideas—the views of reality—that go before them and support them.
One of the most important ideas in the universe is found in 1 Corinthians
15:51–58—the resurrection and a precious “therefore” that flows from it:
“Behold, I tell you a mystery, we will not all sleep, but we will all be
changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.… ‘O
death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death
is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the
victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be
steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that
your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (Piper, J. A Godward life : Savoring the
supremacy of God in all life).
"TERMS OF EXPLANATION"
For and because are small words that is
often overlooked, but which are frequently used in Scripture at the beginning
of a passage or in the middle of a passage. Although listed under the category
Terms of Conclusion, these words are more accurately classified
as terms of explanation. In these occurrences for
(because) often functions as a
connective word which seeks to make something clear and/or understandable. In
other words, for
(because) functions like a marker which shows the cause or reason for something,
specifically expressing the reason for what has been stated before... thus the
logic for designating them as a "term of explanation". Be aware that
for may sometimes be
used to introduce a detailed description of something as alluded to earlier, so
you will always need to examine the context to determine if it is being used as
a "term of explanation". In many (if not most) of the uses of for
as a conjunction one can substitute the synonym because which in my
opinion is somewhat easier to understand. And because there as so many
occurrences of "for" in the Bible, the diligent inductive student will have many
pause and ponder passages.
PAUSING AND PONDERING
Remember the benefit that as you carry out
of the terms of conclusion and
terms of explanation, you are in a very real sense practicing
Biblical Meditation, a
spiritual discipline which has been largely lost in our modern, fast paced
society, which is sad because God promises such wonderful blessings to those who
on His Word. For example see Psalm 1:2-note,
cp Ps 119:97-read
Spurgeon's note on advantage of meditation in this passage,
[Do you prefer "study to slumber?"]
See also Col 3:16-note
where letting the Word richly dwell in us is in a sense an allusion to
meditating on His Word and then observe how Colossians parallels being filled
with the Spirit in Eph 5:18-See
chart comparing Colossians and Ephesians! Clearly filling oneself
with the Word will facilitate being filled with the Spirit.
This begs the [rhetorical] question --
Could there be any relationship between meditating on the Scripture and being
filled with/controlled by the Spirit? In sum let the
little word "for" become your good friend, one who continually guides you into the blessed practice
of meditating on God's Word of Truth and Life day and night! You won't
regret it in time or eternity!
Here is an example of interrogating "for"
in Mark who records that as Jesus
taught in the synagogue at Capernaum on the Sabbath,
they were amazed at His teaching; for
(substitute because) He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
(Mk 1:22; see also Mt 7:28, 29-note)
What does for explain in this verse? Why were they amazed? How did the
teaching of Jesus in the synagogue compare to the teaching the Jews normally
heard? etc, etc. In sum, when you encounter for or because,
stop and interrogate the text asking why the for/because is there, what is being explained, etc...it will not be a waste of time.
Note that for/because is the opposite of "cause/effect", the effect usually occurring in the preceding passages and the cause in the passages
following the for/because. Note also the caveat that this discussion relates to "for" as it is used as a
conjunction (words like "and" that functions to join together sentences),
and not when "for" is used as a preposition (words placed before another
to express some relation or quality, action or motion to or from the thing
specified - "God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife").
Always consider marking these connective
words by underlining or boxing them in (or use three dots in triangle form for "therefore").
But even if you don't mark them, always take a moment to stop and question why
they are there. You will be amazed at how the Spirit will illuminate the passage
when you make the choice to
pause and ponder the passage.
it! - Read Ezra 7:10 What is the "connective" in this passage?
What is the 5W/H question you would ask? (Stop!
Ask a Question) What does
Ezra setting his heart, etc, explain? Where does this question force you to go
in order to answer the question? Clearly, it calls us to go to the preceding
passage, so let's read Ezra 7:9 for the context which is the key to accurate interpretation. Now, what does the for
Answer the Question)
For explains why "the good hand of his God was upon" Ezra. Observe
another connective (because) in Ezra 7:9, which begs the question,
what does the good hand of his God upon him explain? As an aside, what is
a simple list in Ezra 7:10? Don't forget to include set his heart
which is like the "headwater" (What
truth does this simile convey?) of this "spiritual river" = set >
study > practice > teach. Do you see a progression in the list? What's another
word for "practiced it"? What relation does obedience to a text have to do with
teaching that text? After you have arrived at your conclusions, you are now
better prepared to go to the commentary on Ezra 7:10
RULE OF THUMB
Whenever you see a term of conclusion or
explanation, stop and ask at least one 5W/H question. Terms of conclusion
and explanation usually will
compel you to re-read the previous passage(s). Re-reading in turn helps you to
establish the context, as well helping increase your retention (~memorization)
and understanding (~interpretation)
of that section of Scripture.
C H Spurgeon had this to say about
the importance of therefores...
Every doctrine of the Word of God has its
practical application. As each tree bears seed after its kind, so does every
truth of God bring forth practical virtues. Hence, you find the apostle Paul
very full of therefores—his therefores being the conclusions drawn
from certain statements of divine truth.
This chart highlights
the importance of careful observation and interrogation when you encounter
connecting words or conjunctions. Conjunctions
can greatly aid your understanding of the flow of thought in a passage,
because they indicate relationships between the ideas that they link
together. Just like the old spiritual "Dem Bones" where the "knee bone is
connected to the thigh bone" etc, passages of Scripture are intimately
connected. Therefore it behooves the observer of Scripture to be on the
lookout for these small but useful words. Whenever one of these "code
breaker" conjunctions is encountered, pause and ask a relevant 5W/H question
- What is being explained? What's the reason or cause? Why the emphasis?
What time is it, what is the sequence, etc? If interrogation of the text
with 5W/H questions seems difficult, it is because it does take some
practice to become skillful in asking the right questions.
Let me encourage
you to ask at least one 5W/H question every time you open the Scriptures,
because as with every pursuit in life "practice makes perfect".
Here are a couple of
definitions of common conjunctions to help ask the correct questions when
you observe the specific conjunction.
Because - for the reason that, on
account of the fact that; for the cause which is explained in the next
For - For the following reason.
Because. Note that many uses of "for" in Scripture function as a preposition
instead of a coordinating conjunction. A good clue that "for" is a
coordinating conjunction explaining the reason for something is that the
"for" appears at the beginning of a sentence or clause. The American
Dictionary writes that "for" is used as "The word by which a reason is
introduced of something before advanced. “That ye may be the children of
your father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and
on the good.” In such sentences, for has the sense of because, by reason
Until - up to the point in time,
up to such a time as.
CAUSE / REASON
Because, For this reason, Since,
As, Also, Just as, Like, Likewise,
More, More than, So as, So also, Too
And, Either, Neither, Nor, Or
Although, But, Except, Even though,
However, Much more, Nevertheless, Only, Otherwise, Whereas, Yet
LOCATION / POSITION
At, In, On, Over, Where, Wherever
PURPOSE / RESULT
For this purpose, In order that, So
that, That, Then, Therefore, Thus
After, As, Before, Now, Then,
Until, When, While
TERMS OF CONTRAST
Contrast is the juxtaposition of
dissimilar elements, things that are unlike. Contrast
sets off their dissimilar qualities and in so doing makes something sharp and clear by
highlighting the differences. Contrast focuses on the differences, whereas
comparison (see below) focuses on similarities.
Always be alert for contrasts taking special note of words like...(# of
uses in parentheses are from 1977 NASB, but always check the
# of Uses*
In spite of
On the other hand
Number of uses in the 1995 New American Standard translation
** Yet can be either a time phrase or a marker of contrast -
the context as always determines the meaning.
Note: All words in blue are active links to allow you to
examine the uses of the respective word or phrase.
Not all of the words or phrase in this table represent contrasts and
therefore one must always examine the context
Words of contrast are always important to
note because they indicate a change in direction. When a verse begins
with one of these words, always stop and ask the
type questions such as...
"What is the author's change of direction"?
"Why is he changing direction?"
"What is being contrasted?"
"Why is it
"When is it being contrasted?"
"What point does the author wish to convey?", etc.
a verse begins with a contrast word like "but", as a
good inductive student, what should be your "natural reflex"?
Clearly your attention should be drawn to re-read the preceding context to
determine what the author is contrasting. Once again you are forced to slow
down and engage your thinking process rather than speeding through a crucial
"intersection" without slowing down.
Note that not all contrasts are identified
delineated by specific contrast
words like but, yet, etc. Although they are more difficult to
identify, be alert for contrasting thoughts. For example, observe the
following passage...what is the contrast in 1Th 5:5
"for you are all sons of light
and sons of day.
We are not of night nor of darkness"
To reiterate, words of contrast
should always be a clue the passage is changing direction.
take a moment and read
Galatians 5 and make a list of the two
contrasting lifestyles in Gal 5:19, 20, 21, 22, 23
(notes). Paul first writes that “the deeds of the
flesh are evident” (Gal 5:19-note)
and then proceeds to list those deeds (providing the source of a simple list). Then in
(note) Paul begins with the
contrast word "but" writing “But the fruit of the
Spirit is..." and gives us a list of the components of the fruit that characterizes life in the Spirit.
The contrast is between two dramatically different lifestyles and ultimately
two distinct destinies.
Now put you skills of observation to work
by doing the following exercise.
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE:
for an exercise
marking and questioning the contrasting truths in
EXPRESSIONS OF TIME
References to TIME show the progression or sequence of events, ideas, etc.
Be on the alert for for words that express some element of time (# in
parenthesis is frequency in 1977 NAS,
but always check the
# of Uses
As soon as
At that time
Expressions of time
identify the timing or sequence of events.
These words generally answer the
5W/H question "When?"
time you encounter a TIME PHRASE you should pause and ask "When type"
questions like -- What time is it? When did
this happen? When will this happen?, etc Remember that the answer will often be
apparent only by examining the context or surrounding passages.
Make note of what you learn "When"
Mark expressions of time with a circle or clock (I
throughout my Bible and recommend
Pigma Micron pens
to keep from bleeding through the pages) in your Bible margin. I use Micron
01 size / .25 mm which is a fine point and excellent for marking the text.
The Micron 005 creates an even finer line but the thin tip is easily bent.
Several useful colors are available in a six pack of 0.20 mm (Black, Red,
Blue, Green, Brown, Purple). These pens are not cheap but last for many
months in my experience.
OBSERVE THE CHRONOLOGY
OF MATTHEW 24:15-31
Time phrases are especially crucial when interpreting prophecy. For example,
practice this technique by reading
Matthew 24:15-31 (print out a copy on your
word processor) and mark the six uses of "then" or "when"
(in NASB) and notice how the
events come into focus as you note these expressions of time. Remember to
check the context. Determine the context by interrogating the
surrounding (especially the preceding) text.
look at commentaries or study notes to establish the context lest you
be biased by their interpretation comments on this section of Scripture. Let
the text speak for itself (i.e., read it as literal unless you discern a
clear figure of speech). Ask and answer questions like -- Where is
this taking place? Mt 24:1, 2, 3. What genre of literature does this
section represent? Who (is speaking], [is the audience, what is their
nationality?]? Mt 24:3, cp Mark 13:3 What is the general subject (or
question that is being asked and addressed)? Now, you are primed and ready
for this incredible and sadly oftimes very controversial passage Mt
24:15-31. Remember that whenever you read a verse, a paragraph, a chapter,
etc, read with a purpose -- in this section of Matthew 24 your purpose is
specifically to observe for the chronology, marking the text with a green
clock (consider doing this in your Bible if you are neat, but remember that
ballpoint ink will leak through the page -
Other time phrases that you want to be alert for especially in the Old
Testament include "in that day" and "Day of the LORD".
Click here to study the uses of the "Day
of the LORD" and make a list of what you observe, remembering to
examine the context because not all the uses refer to the same time period.
For some fascinating insights into what the future holds for Israel, observe
the 40 uses of "in that day" in
here but remember to read
the text in context) and the 19 uses in
Zechariah 12-14 (for all 3 chapters
here or for the specific verses
TERMS OF COMPARISON
SIMILE & METAPHOR
"A picture is
worth a thousand words."
Figures of speech ("picture talk") are colorful expressions
used for literary effect which may be a word or a phrase that departs from straightforward,
literal language. Figures of speech are used for emphasis, freshness
of expression or clarity. However, clarity may suffer if the figure is not properly interpreted.
A picture can be worth a thousand words, unless we let our imagination run
wild and come up with a thousand possible interpretations! Remember that all
Scripture has a single intended meaning. Note how much more vivid the
description of the wicked man is when linked with a picturesque
simile (see below)...
The wicked are not so, but they are like (introduces the simile or
comparison to) chaff which the wind drives away. (Psalm 1:4)
Comment: To the student trained in the art of observation, it is
readily apparent that this passage calls for several interactions and
interrogations, all of which serve to slow you down, to actively
engage your mind (and heart) with the text (and ultimately the Author of the
text) and to aid personal (self)
discovery of precious pearls of wisdom in the passage (cp Pr 2:3-5 6-8).
- Before you read further,
take a moment to practice your skills of observation and interrogation
Some observations and questions one might ask - Who are the wicked?
What does the phrase "are no so" force us to do? (Check context to answer
both of these questions) What does "but" introduce (note)? What is being
contrasted? How does the figure used to describe a godly man contrast with
the figure used to describe a wicked man? What is chaff? How easy is it for
chaff to blown away by the wind? ("Chaff evokes an image of lightness,
instability and worthlessness." -
from reference with entire page on
"chaff"!) What does
this picture say about the fate of the wicked?, etc, etc. Once you have
carried out your own observations, you are in a much better position to read
the commentaries and you will be amazed at how often you find yourself
saying "That passage does say that!" -
Commentary on Psalm 1:4)
Clinton Lockhart (Principles of Interpretation, 1915) has a simple
rule for determining what is literal and what is figurative
language in the Bible...
If the literal meaning of any word or expression makes good sense in its
connections, it is literal; but if the literal meaning does not make good
sense, it is figurative....Since the literal is the most usual signification of a word, and
therefore occurs much more frequently than the figurative, any term
should be regarded as literal until there is good reason for a different
Robertson McQuilkin explains that...
Figurative language refers to any
words that are used with a meaning other than their common, literal sense.
When dog is used of a human being (e.g., Php 3:2-note), the ordinary, literal
designation of an animal is not intended... All human
languages are filled with talk that is not literal, but Eastern languages
are especially full of figures of speech. Since those languages are
foreign to us, that is all the more reason to work hard at understanding
exactly what the author had in mind (Ed: E.g., see
example of a wall-less city). There is the hurdle of distance in
language and culture, and there is also the hurdle of figurative language.
Consider the plight of a foreigner seeking to understand the English word
hang. A literal definition is easy to come by, but what is he to think
when he hears, as a foreigner, that he has many hang-ups; that he should
indeed hang loose and allow his true feelings to hang out? If he searches
out those idioms carefully, he still may be at a loss to know why someone
is absent because of a hangover, or when he is told, in spite of all the
obstacles to understanding, that he should not only hang on, but hang in
Picture talk is one of the greatest problems of interpretation. To treat
figurative language as if it were literal and to treat literal language as
if it were figurative, constitute two of the greatest hindrances to
understanding the meaning of the Bible (Robertson McQuilkin -
Understanding and Applying the Bible)
In other words, while figures of speech
can be enlightening, they can also be misleading if one mishandles them
and uses them as an excuse to look for "hidden meanings" (See
Discussion of allegorizing in section on
As discussed more in the section on interpretation, we must assiduously
avoid all attempts to "go behind" the text. Instead, our continual quest
should be to seek to carefully observe and accurately interpret what God's
penman meant by what he wrote, for all Scripture has only one correct
Roy Zuck gives a number of advantages of
figures of speech...
(1) Figures of Speech Add Color or Vividness - To say, "The Lord is
my rock" (Ps. 18:2-note)
is a colorful, vivid way of saying the Lord is the One on Whom I can depend
because He is strong and unmovable.
If we say, "It is raining hard," we are using a normal, plain statement. But
if we say, "It is raining cats and dogs," we have used a sentence that means
the same thing but is an unusual, more colorful way of expressing the same
(2) Figures of Speech Attract Attention - A listener or reader
immediately perks up because of the uniqueness of figures of speech. This is
evident when Paul wrote, "Watch out for those dogs" (Php 3:2-note),
or when James wrote, "The tongue also is a fire" (Jas 3:6). When a
comparison is made between two things that are normally not alike or
normally not compared, then surprise occurs. Similes and metaphors, for
example, often have this element of unexpectedness.
(3) Figures of Speech Make Abstract or Intellectual Ideas More Concrete
- "Underneath are the everlasting arms" (Dt 33:27) is certainly more
concrete than the statement, "The Lord will take care of you and support
(4) Figures of Speech Aid in Retention - Hosea's statement, "The
Israelites are... like a stubborn heifer" (Hosea 4:16), is more easily
remembered than if Hosea had written, "Israel is terribly stubborn." The
scribes and Pharisees could hardly forget Jesus' words, "You are like
whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are
full of dead men's bones and everything unclean" (Mt 23:27). Figures of
speech are used in many languages because they are easily remembered and
make indelible impressions.
(5) Figures of Speech Abbreviate an Idea - They capture and convey
the idea in a brief way. Because they are graphic, they eliminate the need
for elaborate description. They say a lot in a little. The well-known
metaphor, "The Lord is my Shepherd" (Ps 23:1-note),
conveys briefly many ideas about the Lord's relationship to His own.
(6) Figures of Speech Encourage Reflection - Their resplendence makes
the reader pause and think. When you read Psalm 52:8-note, "But I am like an
olive tree flourishing in the house of God," you are challenged to reflect
on points of similarities suggested in that simile. The same is true of
Isaiah 1:8-note, "The Daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like
a hut in a field of melons, like a city under siege." (Basic
Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth -
Wordsearch software) (Recommended
It is also important to remember that figures of speech although
"figurative" are always intended to convey literal truth. As discussed below
the literal meaning of a figure of speech is critically
dependent on an analysis of the context in which is it used. Let's
take a non-Biblical example of the figurative use of a word like "crown".
If someone declares "I am going to crown you" the literal meaning of
this figurative use will depend on the context. And so it could mean:
I am going to place a literal
crown on your head.
I am going to symbolically
exalt you to the place of kingship.
I am going to knock you in the
As emphasized in the section on interpretation, Scripture should be
understood in its literal, normal (normative), and natural sense. Figures of
speech always convey literal truth and that is the meaning we must seek.
SOME GUIDELINES FOR
FIGURING OUR FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE
has the following insights
on how to distinguish literal
noting that when...
People talk about a
'literal interpretation of Scripture.' Does that mean that in
49, they see Judah as a
real, live lions cub ("Judah is a lion's whelp [cub]; from
the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a
lion, and as a lion, who dares rouse him up? Ge 49:9,)? Or Joseph
standing by a creek with roots going down into the soil ("Joseph is a
fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; its branches run over a wall."
Ge 49:22)? Or Benjamin as some sort of uncontrollable werewolf ("Benjamin is
a ravenous wolf. In the morning he devours the prey, and in the evening he
divides the spoil." Ge 49:27)? If so, I’ve got a good psychiatrist I can
recommend. When we speak of “literal interpretation,” we mean taking the
language in its normal sense, accepting it at face value as if the writer is
communicating in ways that people normally communicate. As one person has
“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no
So, according to this principle, when Jesus tells us to
“render to Caesar the things that are Caesars” (Lk 20:25), we don’t
need to look for some hidden meaning or elaborate interpretation. It’s
quite plain that He is telling us to pay our taxes. On the other hand, when
He calls Herod a fox (Lk 13:31,32), He obviously is not saying that the man
is a roving carnivore. He’s speaking figuratively, comparing Herod to that
sly, dog-like creature. (Hendricks, Howard:
by the Book. Excellent resource).
Below are several rules to keep in mind
when evaluating figurative...
Clearly, one rule of thumb is to always read the passage for its literal
sense unless there is some good reason not to.
We must assiduously avoid the temptation to “spiritualize” or "allegorize"
(look for "hidden" or "secret" meaning)
the text, trying to make it say everything but what it plainly says. Only
compelling reasons makes the words figurative.
Take as an example the beautiful Song of Solomon, which Dr John MacArthur
has suffered strained
interpretations over the centuries by those who use the “allegorical”
method (Ed note: allegory = having hidden spiritual meaning that
transcends the literal sense of a sacred text and the respected
commentator Matthew Henry plainly states Song of Solomon "is an
allegory"!) of interpretation, claiming that this song has no actual
historical basis, but rather that it depicts God’s love for Israel
and/or Christ’s love for the church...A more satisfying way to
approach Solomon’s Song is to take it at face value and interpret it
in the normal historical sense, understanding the frequent use of
poetic imagery to depict reality...thus providing spiritual music for
a lifetime of marital harmony. It is given by God to demonstrate His
intention for the romance and loveliness of marriage, the most
precious of human relations." (MacArthur,
J.: The MacArthur Study Bible Nashville: Word
(Highly recommended resource)
the careful student of Scripture
will realize that this (allegorical interpretation) cannot be the
primary interpretation of the (Song of Solomon) since the church was a
secret hidden in God from the foundation of the world and not revealed
until the apostles and prophets of the NT. Few Christians will deny
that in this song we have a very beautiful picture of the love of
Christ for the church, but this is an APPLICATION and not the
W & Farstad, A. Believer's Bible Commentary: Thomas Nelson or
Logos) (Bolding and caps added)
Some passages use language that clearly identifies the use of a figure of
speech (see like and
as in "simile" below). For example Moses writes that manna was
as the frost on the ground." (Ex 16:14)
In some passages a literal interpretation makes absolutely no sense, thus
forcing the reader to interpret it as a figure of speech.
If the statement would obviously be irrational, unreasonable, or absurd if
taken literally, the presumption is that it is a figure of speech.
For example, in John's Gospel, Jesus uses "picture talk" describing Himself as "Living Bread"
(Jn 6:51, 35, 48), "the Light" (John 8:12, 1:4, 5, 7, 8,9, 3:19,
20, 21, 9:5, 11:9, 10, 12:35, 36, cp fulfillment of prophecy = Isa 9:2),
"the Door" (Jn 10:1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10), "the good Shepherd" (Jn 10:11, 14),
"the resurrection and the life" (Jn 11:25), "the way, the truth and the
life" (Jn 14:6), "the True Vine" (Jn 15:4, 5). Common sense
tells us that Jesus is not a literal door, a literal vine, etc but that He
is pointing to a literal truth about Himself.
It should also come as no surprise that when you are "figuring out the
figurative", one of your best guides is the context. When taken in isolation, the expression or statement might be either
figurative or literal, but in the context the author indicates that he does
not intend the meaning to be taken as literal.
For example, in Psalm 63:7
shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy” (Ps 63:7-note).
David is certainly not saying that God
has wings for that would be an absurd interpretation. Examination of the
entire Psalm (the context), leads one to a clearer understanding of
the picture of God's protection for His children with the same watch care as a mother
eagle for her helpless eaglets.
As a corollary, when read in context,
there is usually a plain and ordinary meaning for the figure of speech. In
many cases, the Scripture will even immediately explain the figure. Because
of the integrity of the Scriptures, one can be confident that the ultimate
truth in view will correspond to the plain and ordinary sense of the words
used. Avoid the temptation of trying to make the figure of speech say
something that God does not intend. Stated another way, although it is a
figure of speech, it still will have only one "literal" meaning and that is
always to be our goal in inductive Bible study.
Terms of comparison are the most common type of
figurative language in the Bible, usually expressing similarity between
things that are otherwise dissimilar. The basic idea of comparison is to take something
with which everyone is familiar and use give the reader insight into something which is
unfamiliar or less familiar.
In everyday life, when we see two of anything alike, the similarity
immediately draws our attention and this same phenomenon is true in Bible
study. How often do you see children out in public and don't pay that much
attention? But when we see twins, our attention is heightened and more
focused. In the same way, similarities stand out thus the Bible
frequently uses comparison things well
known and understood, in order to give insights into truths
which may not as well known or understood.
For example, in Psalm 1 we observe that the
man who delights himself in the Word of God and mediates on it day and night
will be like (term
of comparison = simile) a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its
fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does,
he prospers. (Ps 1:3-note)
The writer could have just said the godly man prospers, but he
compares him to a tree near water, which gives us additional insight into
the character and course of the godly man.
on Jer 17:7, 8 -
Before you read further take a moment
to question this great text with several 5W/H questions.
With what word does Jer 17:8 begin (see
terms of explanation)?
What question does that it suggest? Why will this man be like
a tree? How does Jeremiah amplify the comparison of this man to a
tree? What two things won't happen to him? What two things
will happen to him? How does this description help us understand what it
means to be blessed? Why is this man blessed...what
has he done? What does anxious mean (be sure and read
the origin or derivation of our English word
anxious for a great word picture which
describes how we feel when we are anxious - or see the original Greek
merimnao - be anxious).
In sum, we know that the Bible uses
figures of speech like terms of comparison (simile, metaphor) or "picture
talk" to expand or amplify the meaning of the
passage. But how can we easily recognize and accurately interpret figurative language? Below are a few guidelines to help you figure out the figurative:
figure of speech
which draws a comparison between
subjects (which may or may not otherwise be alike)
is introduced (and identified) by use of
as or like. For
example if I say I am
"as nervous as a long-tailed
cat in a room full of rocking chairs", the picture is much more
forceful than if I simply say "I am very nervous."
Read Ps 42:1 . What is the
comparison. What 5W/H questions might you ask? Stop for a moment an
practice questioning this passage before you read on.
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God. (Ps 42:1)
What does the psalmist compare to what? The deer to my soul. Water brooks to
God. Why does a deer pant for the water brooks? It is thirsty. It needs
refreshing. It cannot live without water. So as water is to the deer's
physical sustenance, the very person of God (not just knowledge about Him)
Himself sustains us spiritually. Only God will fulfill our deepest longing.
What does this simile say about one's attitude toward God? It is clearly an
intense longing, not a casual or passing fancy. David was experiencing a
severe "divine drought" (MacArthur). Have you ever seen an animal panting
after running hard and then being offered some water? This is the picture is
of an intense longing for God even as the deer longs for water. Made in
the image of God image, men and women find the essence of life in the
presence of God and His word. 1Peter 2:2
(note) paints a similar
comparison of the longing of a newborn babe for
its mother's milk with the appetite the believer should have for the
spiritual nourishment found only in Gods pure, undiluted, unadulterated Word.
Note the preceding context (1Pe 2:1-note) for an explanation of why one might have
decreased "appetite" for the Word of the LORD.
Spurgeon comments: As after a long drought the poor fainting
deer longs for the streams or rather as the hunted deer instinctively seeks
after the river to bathe its smoking flanks and to escape the dogs, even so
my weary, persecuted soul pants after the Lord my God. Debarred from public
worship, David was heartsick. Ease he did not seek, honour he did not covet,
but the enjoyment of communion with God was an urgent need of his soul; he
viewed it not merely as the sweetest of all luxuries, but as an absolute
necessity, like water to a stag. Like the parched traveler in the
wilderness, whose skin bottle is empty, and who finds the wells dry, he must
drink or die -- he must have his God or faint. His soul, his very self, his
deepest life, was insatiable for a sense of the divine presence. As the deer
utters a loud cry so his soul prays. Give him his God and he is as content as the poor
deer which at length slakes its thirst and is perfectly happy; but deny him
his Lord, and his heart heaves, his bosom palpitates, his whole frame is
convulsed, like one who gasps for breath, or pants with long running. Dear
reader, dost thou know what this is, by personally having felt the same? It
is a sweet bitterness. The next best thing to living in the light of the
Lord's love is to be unhappy till we have it, and to pant hourly after it --
hourly, did I say? thirst is a perpetual appetite, and not to be forgotten,
and even thus continual is the heart's longing after God. When it is as
natural for us to long for God as for an animal to thirst, it is well with
our souls, however painful our feelings. We may learn from this verse that
the eagerness of our desires may be pleaded with God, and the more so,
because there are special promises for the importunate and fervent (see
PSALMS & PROVERBS
The Psalms and Proverbs are filled with comparisons,
with over fifty uses of the
(NAS) in similes.
it! - Three exercises
Read Pr 25:28.
Re-read the passage and ask one or more
5W/H Questions. When
you've finished, compare your questions and conclusions to the following
What is compared to what? What is a city like when it is broken into? What happens when
it has no walls? What will the city be like? Now carry that picture
over to a man's spirit. When a city is broken into, there is death
and destruction. When there are no walls ancient cities (always keep
the historical context in mind) were basically defenseless! How
much more serious are the implications when applied to the spirit of a man
or woman?! In summary, the writer is using the picture of a defeated,
overrun city as a comparison to help us understand the gravity of a soul
that is overrun by the world, the flesh and the devil because we have
elected to let down our guard ("wall")! Not a pretty site! Now you can go to
the commentaries to see how they handle this passage. (Biblical
(2) Read Pr 25:26 (Note: "polluted" also = "ruined"!)
Ask one or more 5W/H Questions before you
Comment: What is compared to what? What does a "trampled
spring" picture? (Is the water clear and inviting?) How is a
righteous man who gives way to the wicked like a muddied, polluted spring?
What is a spring? A spring speaks of the source of the water. If the
source is polluted, so too will be all that comes from that source! What
are the implications for a righteous man or woman? How will this
effect their usefulness to a holy God (Recalling that the best commentary on
Scripture is Scripture compare 2Ti 2:21, 22) The spring, which like the man,
was once clean, pure, and useful, is now polluted, impure and useless for
service! (cp Pr 4:23 and note the term of explanation "for" - ask
questions. And remember to apply the truths illuminated to your life
beloved. cp Ps 139:23, 24)
As with all Scripture, not only is the immediate Scriptural context
important in accurately interpreting a text, but the
geographical/cultural/historical context is often important to
consider and may add interesting insights. In analyzing Pr 25:26 we need to
be aware of the great value of pure springs in the arid often desert like
conditions of the near east, a geographical consideration which gives this
proverb an even greater force. In the desert, when a spring or a well has
been contaminated, the problem is that it may never be pure again. Therefore
it will thereafter disappoint those who come to it for a drink. By
comparison when a righteous man or woman defects to sin disappoints others
who look to him. Remember that another aid in analyzing a text is to examine
it in a different translation - in this verse, the Amplified translation
expands on what it means to "give way", rendering it as "yields, falls down,
and compromises his integrity." What a picturesque, practical and pithy
proverb! And all of these insights have been gleaned by slowing down and
chewing on the passage using the tools of Inductive Bible Study. Can you
imagine what treasures await you, as you begin to hone your skills of
Inductive Bible Study and utilize them on every Scripture you read for the
rest of your life?!
If you would like some more practice,
study some of the following passages from the
Proverbs and Psalms which use like and
as. With each
comparison "bombard" the text with the 5W/H questions. Consider doing this
over a period of several days as a devotional exercise, recording your insights.
Don't forget to check the context. Ask what is being compared and what insights you
glean from the comparisons. Some of these uses are difficult to evaluate
without a knowledge of the historical or cultural context - eg Ps 126:4 uses
"Restore our captivity, as the streams in the South." One would have
to understand that the South referred to a dry, desert area which floods
when it receives the seasonal rains. When I encounter one of these passages,
I will refer to the NLT which is a reasonably accurate paraphrase which can
provide a clue regarding the meaning (see Ps 126:4NLT).
Note that the passages below do not
include every use of like or as in the Psalms and Proverbs. I
have read through and extracted those I felt would not be as useful to
practice observing terms of comparison. Other passages were not included as
they were somewhat difficult to interpret. Notice that I have added links to
commentaries (denoted by
Most of these will link to a commentary by Charles Bridges' which is older
but still very highly respected.
please use the commentaries in
a sense as your "reward", as well as a "check" on the accuracy your
observations and interpretation. Always ask the 5W/H questions and arrive at your own
conclusion ("commentary") before going to the formal commentary! You do not want to spoil the joy
of self discovery! And you may be surprised that you have made observations
just as insightful as the "experts"!
Use of like - Pr 1:27 (N)
Pr 4:18 19 (The preceding two are highly recommended. Look also for
contrasts between these two "parallel" passages - see excellent
succinct summary on
Hebrew Parallelism = the expression of one idea in two
or more different ways) (N);
Pr 6:5, Pr 6:11(N);
Pr 10:23, 26 (N)
Pr11:28 (Cp Ps 1:3, Jer 17:8) (N);
Pr 12:4 (N),
Pr 12:18 (Wow! What a comparison! Note: One comparison is
simile, the other is a metaphor) (N);
Pr 16:15, 27(N);
Pr 17:14 (Cp another translation - Pr 17:14NLT) (N);
Pr 18:8, 11 (Note: one simile, one metaphor, check context = Pr
Pr 18:19YLT, Pr 19:12 (N);
Pr 21:1 (Ponder this one then look at
Pr 23:5 (What a poignant picture! -
Pr 23:32, 34 (Note importance of context to accurately analyze the
preceding two passages) (N);
Pr 24:34 (Note it begins with a term of conclusion - what must you do?) (N);
Pr 25:11, 12, 13, 14 (What is the common theme in these 4 proverbs? Pr
25:13NLT helps grasp the meaning.
Pr 25:18, 19, 20, 25 26, 28 (N)
Pr 26:1 7 8 (cp Pr 26:8NLT) Pr 26:9, 10 11 17
21, 22, 23 (Pr 26:23NLT) (N);
Pr 27:8 (N);
Pr 28:3 15(N)
Use of as - Pr 2:4(N), Pr
3:12(N), Pr 5:4(N),
Pr 7:2, 10, 22, 23(N),
Use of like - Ps 1:3 4; 2:9; 7:2; 17:12; 18:33; 22:14
28:1; 29:6; 31:12; 35:5, 10, 16; 36:6; 37:2, 20, 35; 38:13 13; 39:12; 49:12,
20; 50:21; 52:2, 8; 55:6; 58:4, 7 8; 59:6, 14; 62:3; 64:3; 68:13; 71:19;
72:6, 16; 73:5, 20, 22; 77:13, 20; 78:8, 13, 15f, 27, 52, 57, 65, 69; 79:3,
5; 80:1; 82:7; 83:11, 13 14; 86:8; 88:4 5, 17; 89:6, 8, 10, 37, 46; 90:4 5, 9;
92:7, 10, 12; 97:5, 11; 102:3 4, 6 7, 9, 11, 26; 103:5, 15; 104:2; 105:41;
106:6; 107:27, 41; 109:18, 23; 113:5; 114:4, 6; 115:8; 118:12; 119:83, 119,
176; 126:1; 127:4; 128:3; 129:6; 131:2; 133:2 3; 135:18; 143:3, 7; 144:4;
Use of as - Ps 5:12 10:9 12:6 14:4
17:8 18:42 19:5 21:9 22:13 31:12 32:4 9 33:7 35:14 37:6 38:4 39:1 5 6 11
42:1 10 44:11 22 48:3 6 10 49:14 53:4 58:7 8 61:6 63:5 64:3 66:10 68:2 74:14
78:65 83:9 10 89:29 36 90:4 95:8 102:8 103:11 12 13 15 104:2 6 109:18 19
109:19 29 110:3 118:12 119:162 122:3 123:2 124:7 125:1 2 126:4 140:3 141:2 7
143:6 144:12 147:17
To reiterate, as you observe the preceding passages
ask questions like what is being compared to what.
Always remember to read
the immediate context. Ask other 5W/H questions as dictated by the
subject matter in that specific passage. Write down notes on the insights you receive from
questioning the comparison (e.g., you could use a simple table like the one
below). And don't forget that figures of speech always convey
literal truth seek the literal
truth that is brought out by the
comparisons, using the context to help guide your interpretation (notice how
observation merges almost imperceptibly with interpretation). While you will
want to be open to the
Holy Spirit's illumination of the passage, be careful not to let your "sanctified imagination" run wild
to the point that you try to discern things that do not reflect the original intent of the passage.
PROVERB or PSALM
To encourage as the the value of this exercise, read Ps 2:9. Observe the
simile, check the context and ask the 5W/H questions. The psalmist could
have simply said "You shall shatter them" but note how the addition of the
simile emphasizes the completeness and ease of their shattering! So take a
moment and practice your skills of observation using the similes in the
You will be blessed and challenged by the
truths you discover. And you will begin to experience the Psalms and Proverbs coming alive in "3-D
and Technicolor" in a way you may have previously thought possible only
for "Bible scholars"!
In simple terms, a
metaphor is a term or phrase which in some way shows comparison
between two things but without using the words as or like.
It is an implied comparison, a word (or phrase) applied to
something it is not, to suggest a resemblance.
Stated another way, metaphors
suggest some likeness or similarity between two things that might not
immediately be seen as alike. The
value of metaphors (and similes) is that they give the reader a greater
understanding then he or she would have had without the use of "word
Patzia defines metaphor as
In general usage, an implied comparison
in which the characteristics, qualities or actions of one thing are applied
to another (e.g., speaking of God as shepherd). (Patzia, A. G., & Petrotta,
A. J. Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies. Downers Grove, Ill.:
E W Bullinger in his classic work on figures of speech explains that
while the simile
gently states that one thing is like or resembles another, the metaphor
boldly and warmly declares that one thing IS the other. While the
Simile says “All flesh is AS grass” (1Pe 1:24), the Metaphor
carries the figure across at once, and says “All flesh IS grass”
(Isa 40:6). This is the distinction between the two....The Simile says “All
we like sheep,” while the Metaphor declares that “we are the sheep of His
pasture.”...Ps 23:1 The Lord is my Shepherd”... It is He who tends his
People, and does more for them than any earthly shepherd does for his sheep....Metaphors are so numerous in the Old
Testament, that it is impossible to give more than these few to serve as
specimens and examples. (Read
pages 735-743 for Bullinger's full discussion of "Metaphor" - in his classic
book "Figures of speech used in the Bible, explained" - online)
"You are the salt of the earth..."
- see note)
Bullinger comments "Ye are the
salt of the earth”: i.e., you are (or represent) with regard to the earth
what salt is to other things, preserving it from total corruption and
destruction; just as the few righteous in Sodom would have preserved that
of speech used in the Bible)
What metaphors does Jesus use in the
following verses? What do they teach us about how believers should live in
this present, passing world? Note how Jesus uses two common metaphors to
"explain" His main metaphor. Meditate on these passages asking these and
similar questions before you read what the "prince of preachers", Charles
Haddon Spurgeon observed in the passage. Notice how Spurgeon takes the
passages and prays them back to the Lord - this is a discipline (an
"application" if you will) we should all continually seek to practice!
(Why is this practice so fruitful? See 1Jn 5:14, 15, compare Jn 15:7)
You are the light of the world. A city
set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under
the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in
the house. 16 Let your light
imperative = not
a suggestion but a command which can even convey a sense of urgency!) before men in such a way
that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Spurgeon: We are to remove the
darkness of ignorance, sin, and sorrow. Christ has lighted us that we may
enlighten the world. It is not ours to lie in concealment as to our
religion. God intends his grace to be as conspicuous as a city built on the
mountain’s brow. To attempt to conceal his Spirit is as foolish as to put a
lamp “under a bushel”: the lamp should be seen by “all that are in the
house,” and so should the Christian’s graces. Household piety is the best of
piety. If our light is not seen in the house, depend upon it we have none.
Candles are meant for parlors and bedrooms. Let us not cover up the light of
grace: indeed, we “cannot be hid” if once the Lord has built us on the hill
of his love, neither can we dwell in darkness if God has lighted us, and set
us “on a candlestick.” Lord, let me be zealous to spread abroad the light I
have received from thee even throughout the world! At least let me shine in
my own home.
The light is ours, but the glorification
is for our Father in heaven. We shine because we have light, and we are seen
because we shine. By good works we best shine before men. True shining is
silent, but yet it is so useful, that men, who are too often very bad
judges, are yet forced to bless God for the good which they receive through
the light which he has kindled. Angels glorify God whom they see; and men
are forced to glorify God whom they do not see, when they mark the “good
works” of his saints. We need not object to be seen, although we are not to
wish to be seen. Since men will be sure to see our excellences, if we
possess any, be it ours to see that all the glory is given to our Lord, to
whom it is entirely due. Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name, O
Lord, be praise! (Matthew 5 Commentary)
Another definition - Metaphors are
comparisons that show how two things that are not alike in most ways are
similar in one important way. Metaphors are a way to describe something and
are used make a passage more understandable by painting a word picture.
Unlike similes that use the words “as” or “like” to make a comparison,
metaphors state that something is something else. In other words metaphor is
the comparison of one thing to another without the use of like or as.
Dictionary.com says metaphor is "a figure
of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is
not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in 'A mighty
fortress is our God.'"
The 1828 Webster's dictionary
defines metaphor as
"A short similitude (simile); a
similitude (simile) reduced to a single word; or a word expressing
similitude (simile) without the signs of comparison. Thus "that man is a
fox," is a metaphor; but "that man is like a fox," is a similitude (or
simile). So when I say, "the soldiers fought like lions," I use a similitude
(simile). In metaphor, the similitude is contained in the name; a man is a
fox, means, a man is as crafty as a fox. So we say, a man bridles his anger,
that is, restrains it as a bridle restrains a horse.
In the preceding examples from the
beatitudes (Mt 5:13, 14) we see our Lord Jesus multiplying metaphors to
communicate graphic truth about the vital, dynamic (even radical) lifestyle His disciples should
live in order that they might spiritually impact a world shrouded in sin and
spiritual darkness. As we have stated figurative language always calls for
careful attention to the context so that we can derive an accurate picture
of what the simile or metaphor was intended to picture by the author. And so
to accurately interpret Jesus' metaphors requires some understanding of
the historical/cultural context. In Jesus' day salt was
the major means of arresting corruption in meats, and thus the audience
clearly understood Jesus' charge to them. Light on the other
hand calls for less understanding of the ancient culture, for we all know that
physical light dispels physical darkness.
We know that when we cannot
see, we are in trouble! From the context of other Scriptures, we know that the whole world
lies in spiritual darkness brought on by Adam's sin.
Jesus charge is to shine forth our light in the spiritual darkness so others
might see our good works (pictured here as "the lights" that shine forth) and give glory to God.
In other words, God is invisible to our physical vision, but believers are
to live in such a supernatural way, that others see the tangible
supernatural evidence that clearly points to a supernatural Source, i.e.,
the invisible God. As an aside, if you are a believer and you question your
value or your purpose in God's Kingdom work, then you need to
meditate on Mt
5:16, because frankly, you could not have a higher and holier purpose than
to be a "light beam" who points lost souls to God that they might come to
know Him and His Son (Jn 17:3).
For an insightful study,
click the following link
which list most of the metaphors used to picture the Word of God. As you
read each passage, ask the 5W/H questions and specifically what truth about
His Word this picture is intended to portray. = Click
for Word metaphors
"I AM" METAPHORS
and John 15:5 and identify the metaphors.
Ask your own 5W/H questions before reading the comment below.
Comment: Clearly Jesus is using a well known
horticultural figure of speech which would have been familiar to His
listeners and which served to emphasize His relationship to His
Father. The interpretation is dramatic --
Abide in Jesus and bear much fruit. Fail to abide in Him and bring forth
absolutely nothing. A vine branch has one great purpose which is to bear fruit.
Vine branches are
useless for making furniture or building homes. Vine branches are good for fruit bearing, but only as long as
the branch remains attached to the vine! What is the application to every
believer? Abide in the Vine, be at home with Jesus, keep your focus on Him
through your time in the Word (He is the Word Jn 1:1), conducting yourself
in loving obedience to the Word ingested. As this process takes place, you
are learning to abide in the Vine.
Observe and ask the 5W/H questions on all seven of Jesus' "I Am"
statements in John, all of which are metaphors that serve to expand
our understanding of the infinitely glorious God-Man Christ Jesus!
Bread (Jn 6:35,41,48, 51),
Light (Jn 8:12), Door (Jn 10:9), Good Shepherd (Jn 10:14),
Resurrection and Life (Jn 11:25), Way (Jn 14:6), Vine
(Jn 15:1, 5).
Bullinger comments: What
bread does in supporting natural life is a representation of what Christ
does in supporting and nourishing the new, Divine, spiritual life.... (Jesus
is also saying) I am
what a door is. I am the entrance to the sheepfold, and to the
Father. Yes, a door, and not a flight of steps. A door, through which we
pass in one movement from one side to the other.
FIGURES OF SPEECH:
(Exaggeration) is a
deliberate exaggeration for the sake of emphasis or effect.
Examples of hyperbole:
In each of the following examples pause and ponder the passage, asking
yourself what is the hyperbole or exaggeration and what does it mean in
Dt 1:28 (Deuteronomy
chapter 1 for context) 'Where
can we go up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, "The people
are bigger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified to heaven.
And besides, we saw the sons of the
chapter 1 for context)
Comment: What is the hyperbole? What is the purpose or effect
of this hyperbole? "Fortified to heaven" grossly exaggerates the power of
the enemy, in a sense even approaching the power of God. What is the
application? When we take our eyes off of the majesty and greatness of our
God, the temporal, earthly obstacles often become "exaggerated" in our
imagination and reasoning!
Mark 1:5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all
the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan
River, confessing their sins.
Comment: What is the hyperbole? Clearly "all" does not signify
every single person in Judea was going to John the Baptist, but Mark does
emphasize that Jews were streaming out to John from everywhere in the
region. Mark's emphatic point is that this "church service" did not just
have one or two new baptisms but that multitudes were being baptized!
Matthew 23:24 "You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a
Comment: What are the hyperboles? Gnats and camels! Before we explain
those, did you see any other figurative language? Who is "you" in the
passage? We would have to go and read the chapter and it would become
apparent that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees. Now were they literally
"blind guides"? Jesus is not referring to physical blindness, but to
spiritual blindness, for here was the very "Light of the World" in their
eyesight, and yet they failed to see Him as their long awaited Messiah! Now
the interpretation of the hyperbole not as simple and requires some
understanding of the cultural context which forces us to go to other
resources. In this case, I had to consult 4 Bible dictionaries before I
found a useful explanation of the custom in Jesus' day of filtering wine to
remove impurities symbolized by "gnats" (Easton's).
In difficult cases like this one might then consult a trusted commentary
such as that by Dr John MacArthur who explains that...
Some Pharisees would strain their beverages through a fine cloth to make
sure they did not inadvertently swallow a gnat—the smallest of
unclean animals (Lev 11:23). The camel was the largest of all the unclean
animals (Lev 11:4).
J.: The MacArthur Study Bible Nashville: Word
Psalm 119:20 My soul is crushed with longing after Thine ordinances
at all times.
Comment: What is the hyperbole? Clearly one's soul cannot be
literally crushed so this represents the exaggeration, to emphasize the
great degree of the psalmist's longing for God's ordinances. How often does
the psalmist experience this deep, profound longing? Let us seek to be
imitators of the psalmist, asking God to give us even a "soul crushing
longing" for His Word, if we find ourselves drifting into the waters of
apathy God's Word. It is good when our thirst for the Scriptures is
enormous and unflagging.
Spurgeon beautifully unpacks this hyperbole explaining that "True
godliness lies very much in desires. As we are not what we shall be, so also
we are not what we would be. The desires of gracious men after holiness
are intense, -- they cause a wear of heart, a straining of the mind, till it
feels ready to snap with the heavenly pull. A high value of the
Lord's commandment leads to a pressing desire to know and to do it,
and this so weighs upon the soul that it is ready to break in pieces
under the crush of its own longings. What a blessing it is when all our
desires are after the things of God. We may well long for such longings." (Ed:
And we may well pray for them dear child of God. God will be pleased to
grant such a request that is clearly in His holy will. [1Jn 5:14, 15])
- Tony Garland at spiritandtruth.org
- Bob Smith in Basics of Bible Interpretation
Click for more
of other figures of speech such as irony, metonymy, hyperbole,
personification, apostrophe and synecdoche.
Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
edited by Leland Ryken, J C Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III (Hardbound
edition from Amazon -- take a moment to read some of the reviews)
Dictionary of Biblical Imagery) (Logos
Bible Software - unfortunately book available only in a collection
which makes it expensive) - This can be a useful tool in
analyzing the intended meaning of a specific figure of speech. Here is
an example from the entry for the image of "Rock"
In the ancient world, where
explosives and powerful drills were unknown, rock—abundant and varied
in shape and size—was a ready image of impervious solidity. A rock
provides a solid foundation, protection and security, but it can be a
nuisance when it poses an obstacle to progress and dangerous when it
falls. The Bible uses words translated “rock” in all these senses and
occasionally in more specialized ways.
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE:
Click and read
Psalm 1 taking note of the figures of speech.
DO YOU READ
LIKE DR. WATSON OR SHERLOCK HOLMES?
Holmes: “You see, but you do not
observe. The distinction is
clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from
the hall to this room.”
Holmes: “How often?”
Watson: “Well, some hundreds of times.”
Holmes: “Then how many are there?”
Watson: “How many? I don’t know.”
Holmes: “Quite so! You have not
observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps,
because I have both seen and observed” (“A Scandal in Bohemia” in
The Complete Sherlock Holmes. New York: Doubleday, 1927)
Beloved, let us diligently seek to be
"spiritual Sherlocks" (cp 2Ti 2:15 -
who not only read our Scriptures daily (as part of our devotional and/or
read thru the Bible in a year programs), but also make time to truly
observe the Scriptures in order that we might then be able to "do" them
(proving ourselves "doers of the Word" Jas 1:22 -
empowered by God's Spirit and His always sufficient supply of amazing
So let me ask you again: Do you read the Scriptures like Dr Watson or like
Sherlock Holmes? Do you mechanically read a section in the morning as part
of your routine devotional and walk away without having truly observed
what the Author is saying?
If this is often your experience, then
inductive study is for you and will revolutionize your time in God's Word.
As Howard Hendricks writes "Personal Bible study is the Christian's
lifeline. It is never optional; always essential."
OF A FAMILIAR TEXT
BECAUSE OF FAILURE TO OBSERVE CONTEXT
In 1Corinthians Paul's quotes a passage from Isaiah 64:4, one which I have
personally used many times in teaching and in praying. Unfortunately I
misused it because I had failed to carefully observe the context of
1Corinthians 2:9 which reads as follows...
But just as it is written, "THINGS
WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED
THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM."
- Now stop and ask yourself, "To what is Paul referring?" Many of us have
come to believe Paul is referring to future glory in heaven in the
presence of our Lord. Before you read further, take a moment and carefully
observe the context (1Corinthians 2:10-16), and see it that influences
For (if you miss
this term of explanation, you could miss the
interpretation!) to us God revealed them through the
Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the
man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the
Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the
Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us
by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom,
but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with
spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the
Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand
them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual
appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For WHO HAS
KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE SHOULD INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the
mind of Christ. (1Cor 2:10-16)
Observe that 1Cor 2:10 begins with "for"
which in itself should prompt us to pause, ponder, and ask at least
question -- "What is Paul explaining?" Is he not explaining how eye
can see and ear hear and mind can comprehend what God has prepared for him?
This should prompt another question - "What has God prepared for him?" In
context, we observe that what "God has prepared for him" is not a
reference to the glories to come in heaven, but to the glories we can see
today. In other words, Paul is not referring to the future but to the
present and specifically to the glories to be revealed in the Word of
Truth by the Spirit of Truth to those who depend on and yield to His
teaching ministry. Even such an excellent conservative commentator such as
Henry Morris fails to interpret 1Cor 2:9 in
The glories of "the new heavens and the
new earth" (Isaiah 66:22) are beyond human imagination, for they are being
"prepared" for us by Christ Himself (John 14:2,3).
Now, I will concede that one might
apply the words of 1Cor 2:9 to the future glory, but the fact is that this
is not an accurate interpretation in context. Here are two other respected
commentators that give the proper interpretation...
William MacDonald: The quotation
in 1Cor 2:9 from Isaiah 64:4 is a prophecy that God had treasured up
wonderful truths which could not be discovered by the natural senses but
which in due time He would reveal to those who love Him. Three faculties
(eye and ear and heart, or mind) by which we learn earthly things, are
listed, but these are not sufficient for the reception of divine truths,
for there the Spirit of God is necessary.
This verse is commonly interpreted
to refer to the glories of heaven, and once we get that meaning in our
minds, it is difficult to dislodge it and accept any other meaning.
But Paul is really speaking here about
the truths that have been revealed for the first time in the NT. Men could
never have arrived at these truths through scientific investigations or
philosophical inquiries. The human mind, left to itself, could never
discover the wonderful mysteries which were made known at the beginning of
the gospel era. Human reason is totally inadequate to find the truth of
God. (Believer's Bible Commentary)
John MacArthur: These words from
Isaiah 64:4, often incorrectly thought to refer to the wonders of
heaven, refer rather to the wisdom God has prepared for believers.
God's truth is not discoverable by eye or ear (objective, empirical
evidence), nor is it discovered by the mind (subjective, rational
Comment: In other words,
spiritual truth (God's Word) is not understood merely because it is seen
(read) or heard (eg, Bible on tape) or even because one uses his natural
mind to think about it. E.g., consider the so-called "higher critics" who
do a great deal of thinking about the Word but have absolutely no
understanding of it's intrinsic truth, the truth God's Spirit intended to
convey. And so Paul explains that in order for these glories of truth in
God's Word to be seen by the eye of our heart, we must yield ourselves in
complete dependence to our indwelling resident Teacher, the Holy Spirit
(Cp 1John 2:20, 27)
In conclusion, accurate interpretation
is always dependent on accurate observation of the context. Never
interpret a single verse in a "vacuum", but always take time to examine
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